Sunday, 16 March 2014

Rumours of my blogging death are unsubstantiated...

Did you think I had died and been roasted, with apples in my mouth, over fruit wood, to feed many hungry school children?

No! It is but a rumour! I have simply been in a writer's freeze for months.

Not just here, but also on my Tumblr site, and my lovely novel-in-writing  which was zooming away happily until, all of a sudden, the chill came on like Mr Freeze, and I moved into a state of hibernation.

But here I am, the sun is shining, the blossom is starting to break, and Spring is here.

I am searching for the copyright holder for this image of pussy willow.If you hold the copyright, please let me know so that I can acknowledge you.

Surely I must thaw out now?

note: I am trying to find the owner of the copyright to this image; if you own this image please let me know so that I can properly acknowledge you.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The best of A Greedy Piglet - Eco Marmalade the Update...

Originally posted  June 2011 and mentioned in the Eco Marmalade post:

We had grapefruit for breakfast the other day, and I felt the need to make more marmalade. Now today I am also making Apple Crumble Pie and some lovely Apple Compote from the fabulous first book by Signe Johansen, Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking ...: Scandilicious (yes, yes, later....) , so I have a pile of apple peels and cores sitting on the worktop.

And I remembered a comment from The Marmalady on the original Eco Marmalade post that suggested using apple debris to add pectin to the brew.

She said: "I have seen similar recipes called “compost marmalade” — think Eco-marmalade sounds a lot more appetising.
To up the pectin content, add some apple peel/cores/pips to your muslin bag"

Now I often remember little snippets of stuff. But I don't always remember where it came from, so I was pleased that I DID remember this time. Now I also remember reading somewhere that pressure cooking doesn't do pectin very much good (might have been Marguerite Patten..) (UPDATE 10/3/2014: I've pressure cooked fruit for loads of marmalade since, and can't say that I have found much problem) so I decided that whilst I was pressure cooking the rind, I would simmer the apple peels in around half a litre of water (peels and cores of 5 Bramleys btw..) and strain that to add to the citrus rinds before adding the sugar. Which I did, and along with using half jam sugar, and half ordinary preserving sugar, meant that the boiling was kept to a minimum which I prefer (I think that the orange flavour is at its nicest when it isn't overcooked, and I think the peel hardens too when it is boiled a lot). (UPDATE 10/3/2014: I have made this with ordinary granulated sugar when I didn't have any preserving sugar and it is fine.. just needs boiling for longer than you think it should...)

So there you are! Oranges and apples.. and an orchard of marmalade :)

The best of A Greedy Piglet - Frugal Eating #1- Eco Marmalade

This post was first published in December 2010, and this is also a recipe I am asked for all the time.  It is useful to remember during the year when Seville oranges are out of season, but you have run out of marmalade.  Lemons and Limes can also be used - keep the shells in the freezer after using the juice. 

I have been asked several times now when I am going to get my act together and give some instruction for my famed Eco Marmalade. Well, take your seats, ladies and gentlemen, for here you are..

Eco marmalade, you say. What is an eco? Is it like an orange? Can I buy it in Sainbury’s? Oh very funny...... Well yes you can. Because it’s eco if it ECOnomically uses the leftover rind of whatever citrus fruit you have segmented for your breakfast. Get it?

It came to me when preparing grapefruit and oranges for breakfast, segmenting the fruit and piling the peel into the compost colander for recycling. What a waste of a good thing. How could I use up this peel? I don’t like candied peel much (UPDATE 10/3/2014: err... actually, if it is home made, yes I do!) , so that wasn’t going to work. I pondered, and continued to make breakfast. Toast and marmalade… hold on.. what was that?

Marmalade. The lightbulb moment. I salvaged the rinds of the two red grapefruit and the two oranges from the bowl , together with the membranes from the centre and decided to experiment.

A carton of breakfast juice for the liquid part would add the fruit that was missing from the pulp that we had already eaten.

So working basically with the same method I use for my Seville Orange marmalade, I finely shredded the peel. As it had been sliced downwards in thick fingers, it was so easy to shred widthways, making fine shreds. I put this in a bowl added the membranes (and any odd pips, though red grapefruit don’t have many) tied in a piece of muslin, just covered it all with water, and left to soak overnight.

Day 2 I boiled it all gently until the peel was nice and soft – about 2 hours or so, you want the peel VERY soft. Recently, I have been using a pressure cooker, nice soft peel in about half an hour, so very eco for fuel saving too. Let it all cool down a bit, fish out the muslin bag and squeeze it firmly (to get what pectin you can, there isn’t a huge amount). Add a cup or two of orange juice (until you think it is sufficiently fruity) and then weigh the contents.

(UPDATE: 18/6/2011:
I took note of Marmalady's comment about apple rinds to make additional pectin.. see the update here... )

I had been really delighted to have been sent some sugar from Tate and Lyle to try out, to publicise their changeover to Fairtrade sugar in all their retail packs. One pack was Jam sugar - I always use preserving sugar but usually the one without pectin, this one had added pectin, so knowing that my pectin levels were a bit on the low side, it was useful and timely. It is amazing to look at, not really like you expect preserving sugar to look like at all, sort of golden and sandy looking.

I took the equivalent weight of the peel/water/juice and warmed it up in the oven (this helps it to dissolve more easily). Tipped it in and warmed the mix until the sugar melted completely. A rolling boil, a test for set, hot jars, done.

Nice elegant breakfast. And good for glazing gammon, and in marmalade cake. So far so good...

Aren’t I clever I thought… and then just recently, I found in my copy of Marguerite Patten’s "We'll Eat Again"
that using up rind like this was standard during the war.

Which just goes to show there is nothing new in this world. But doesn’t make the marmalade any less delicious. Eco. Brill.

Note: Thank you to Tate & Lyle for the jam sugar

The best of A Greedy Piglet - 3 Day Seville Orange Marmalade

The marmalade season is nearly at an end now, but nevertheless it is always useful to have this amazing recipe under your belt in readiness for next year. 

First published on A Greedy Piglet in April 2010 it has served me in such good stead.  I have used MaMade oranges out of season (the ones in the big tin) and found them perfectly serviceable, or sometimes I will use sweet oranges and extra lemons.  But there is NOTHING like the warm, orangey fug of marmalade simmering on the stove.  

Marmalade is such a quintessentially English thing, and this winter I seem to have found a lot of blog posts talking about making it in different ways. So when I found a net of Seville oranges at Sainsbury’s going cheap, I decided it was well past time for me to have a go.

My mother has made jams and marmalades ever since I can remember, but I never have. I have a distinct taste memory of being allowed to eat the froth skimmed from the top of the jam as a little child. I don’t think I liked marmalade then, but strawberry sits in my memory bank, near the top, easy to reach. The foamy set scum was like a sweet strawberry flavoured meringue. Delicious.

I think that marmalade is an adult thing. I was reading the other day about how your taste changes when you hit 50, so that bitter things you didn’t like as a child, lose their bitterness for you. Perhaps this is why marmalade is something that you grow to like as you get older, starting with the sweeter orange shred and ending up with a Dark Old English that would strip paint?

I wanted something about half way. Bitter enough that it was truly marmalade, but fresh and light, with fine peel. The thick peel in Tawny and Old English marmalade doesn’t do it for me, but I wanted something with some sour bite.

David Lebowitz was talking on Twitter about his forays into marmalade this year. He ended up with callouses and half a nail on one fingernail (awwww) I thought to myself.. that seems like hard work. But he did mention that he squeezed the juice and added later.

My mum I remembered, used to boil the oranges whole first and then chop them later. But the getting out of the pips was a terrible messy thing, and I remember her swearing and complaining about the stickiness. I might be a messy cook, but I like to keep my hands clean so that was probably not right. (UPDATE:  I found a way round the stickiness.... quarter the oranges after pressure cooking them, and scoop the middle mush into a bowl,  pips and all. Add a cup or two of water, and swish around and leave it to one side whilst you slice up the now soft and easily cut rind. Then pour the resulting mix into a sieve. Push the pulp through the sieve, leaving the membranes and pips behind.  Add the pulp to the bowl with the rind, add the water and refrigerate overnight.)

There had to be a middle way.

Also what about quantities? Delia Smith in her Cookery Course says that she found it much easier to make small quantities as it cooked so much more quickly and came to a really fast set. And there are only two of us, so I don't want to drown in marmalade.

I scoured my recipe books. Most of the recipes seemed fairly standard, but in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book
I found a very interesting variation, a Seville Orange marmalade made over 3 days. And I liked the look of the marmalade in my Time Life Good Cook Preserving book. So I thought I would blend the two and add in bits from my various foraging for tips on the internet.

Now I am not a good person at following a recipe. At best, I find that I use it as a guideline to quantities and methods, a broad view of what an item should be. At worst I follow about one word in twenty. I suppose I settled for one word in five. Multiplied by two recipes. So perhaps one word in ten on aggregate. And this is what I eventually came up with.

Day 1 , the cutting up of the oranges

I had a bag of Seville oranges I had found in the cheaps section in Sainsbury's. Too much for one go I thought. So half that bag. Jane Grigson's recipe called for half a lemon, so yes, that too. I halved them and squeezed the juice out, keeping the pips separate in a little bowl.

Now to cut them up.

Remembering David's ouch noises about poor thumbs, I wanted to keep the cutting as simple as possible. I didn't want the peel to slip and slide either. I wanted nice fine peel. One of the recipes suggested cutting away the ends of the orange (the thickest part of the pith) and discarding. That done, I was left with circular pieces, which I could cut into quarters and flatten onto the cutting board. Much easier than trying to cut them as a rounded orange. Also, it helps that I quite like the pithy bit on a slice of marmalade peel, cooked well it has a lovely sharp toothsome quality I wanted to keep. So no scraping of the insides, they were cut up with all their pithy innards intact. Any larger pieces of membrane I pulled away, but basically that all went in too. All the shreds went into a glass bowl. The pips and membranes were encased in a little muslin bag and added to the glass bowl as well.

Water to soak next. Time Life suggested 1500 ml, (too much it felt to me) Jane Grigson 500 ml (not enough, it didn't cover the peel) so like Goldilocks I settled on the middle way and topped the water until it just covered the peel, about 700 ml in the end.

That's it for day one. All covered and into the fridge.

Day 2 - the cooking of the peel.

Easy day this. The contents of the glass bowl go into a largish pan, and brought to a simmer. Then simmer for at least an hour until a piece of peel will squash easily onto the side, or you bite it and it is slightly softer than you want it to end up (it will firm up a bit when you boil it with the sugar). Take it off the heat let it cool down, back into the bowl and back into the fridge.

Day 3 - the marmalade proper.

The recipes all vary as to the amount of sugar to use. Some seem to want to use twice the weight of the original fruit in sugar, some much less. The original weight of my fruit didn't match up to the recipes in any event, I wasn't going to be faffy and start cutting bits off my oranges to make them fit the weights needed. I certainly couldn't see Mrs Bridges doing that in Upstairs Downstairs, so I wasn't going to do it either...

But the proportion is the thing. Most preserves need roughly the same weight of sugar as the fruit/water. so I ditched volume and weighed the peel with the water and the orange juice that I saved on day 1, and that I added back in now. That was the weight of the sugar I needed.

I decided to use preserving sugar, no pectin, that wasn't going to be needed with citrus fruit especially with the long 2 day soak, but the large crystals are supposed to give a clearer preserve. I weighed the right amount, and set it to heat in the oven for 5 minutes to help it to melt quickly. Meanwhile I put the orange peel mix back in the saucepan and warmed it slowly . By the time it was quite warm but not simmering the sugar was warm, so the sugar went in and I made sure it was really well melted before allowing the mix to start to bubble (this prevents the marmalade from being gritty with undissolved sugar crystals, and helps to prevent it from crystallising later).

Then bring to a rolling boil, and start to time your boil. I started to test after 15 minutes, took about 25 for this first batch before I was confident it was wrinkly enough, but I think it would have fine after the 15 as it did stiffen up quite a bit when it cooled down. In all the books and recipes they go on about scum and adding bits of butter, and not skimming and so on. Well, maybe it was the preserving sugar but I didn't have any scum at all.

A tip here: the books do not mention stirring the mix. I was worried that it would crystallise if I mixed it too much as it was boiling so I left it alone. But a rolling boil for 15 minutes meant that the bottom of the mix caramelised a bit and was dramatically hotter than the rest of the mix. So when I stirred it at the end to mix the peel in, it erupted like molten lava. I stepped back pretty sharply and no harm was done, but it was salutary. DO give it a stir during the boiling to distribute the heat , not all the time, just now and again. And don't mistake a rolling boil for a vicious fast boil. When I made this the 2nd time, a slower fast simmer was fine, and made for a brighter lighter marmalade.

In the meantime, I heated up my clean jars in the oven and boiled the lids in a pan of water, then let the marmalade sit for about 5 mins, gave it a good stir and ladled into the jars, sealing them down whilst hot to create a vacuum under the lids.

And very good it is too. Even my mum likes it better than hers!

The best of A Greedy Piglet - It's All Greek to Me

This post was first published in April 2010, and was the first time I played with Total Greek Yoghurt. I still have a fridgeful of Total Greek Yoghurt, and doubt that it will ever be any different. There are some really useful little recipes in this post, in particular the one for Tartare Sauce, which is so perfect I never buy it any more. 

 You will not of course have missed that the first line of this post talks about me and losing weight.... hmmmmm..... plus ça change, plus c'est la mème chose. These days I simply try not to gain any!

Yoghurt, the thick creamy Greek kind has long been the mainstay of my breakfast. I would eat it dolloped onto fruit, mixed into muesli or granola, or pure and unadulterated with honey and walnuts. Lush all of them.

However, since the middle of last year, I have also been trying to lose weight. Thick creamy full fat Yoghurt has been too rich in fat for me to have in any quantity, and so reluctantly I moved over to 0% fat free yoghurt.

I am not a great fan of ordinary very low fat or fat free yoghurt, it is thin and acid to my taste, but thick strained yoghurt is much nicer. It is also easy to make a version yourself. Simply dampen a square of muslin, pop it into a sieve and allow the yoghurt to drain for a few hours in the fridge. Then tip it out of the sieve into a container (the rinsed out yoghurt pot is fine) and it will keep in the fridge like normal yoghurt.

You should find that you will end up with about 40% volume of the original yoghurt, and a basin full of whey. I have yet to find a use for this (although I expect I will one day) so I just tip it away.

(note: If you keep pigs you could feed it to them, as I understand they go mad for it. But here in North East London, the neighbours aren't that keen on pigs next door... although... but I digress...)

The trouble with making your own is the thinking ahead. I always forget. And end up with no yoghurt for breakfast except for the thin yucky kind.

And then I discovered Total 0%. It is luscious, thick and creamy and you simply wouldn't believe that it is fat free. And a free food on my Slimming World plan. (Don't confuse Total yoghurts with other Greek Style yoghurts - these often have cream added to make the yoghurt thick, rather than straining in the traditional Greek/Turkish way. You need to check the labels)

So I was delighted when, via the UK Food Bloggers Association I was offered a huge batch of Total Greek yoghurt to play with, try out new recipes, do whatever I liked with.

There are loads of ways to use Greek yoghurt on a low fat plan. Some of my favourite easy ways:

Tartare Sauce:
Perfect with grilled or dryfried fish:

0% Greek Yoghurt
Chopped cornichon guerkins
Chopped red onions
Chopped capers
Chopped parsley
Splash of lemon juice.

Mix and serve.

Mayonnaise dressing for potato salad:

0% Greek Yoghurt:
half quantity Extra Low Mayonnaise
Skimmed milk

Mix yoghurt and mayonnaise together. It will thicken dramatically, slake with skimmed milk until it is the texture you need. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice to taste.

Mock Beurre Blanc

Finely chopped shallot
Finely chopped capers
1 tbs wine vinegar
1 tbs water
1 tbs Extra Light Clover or other very low fat spread suitable for cooking
2 tbs 0% Greek Yoghurt
salt & pepper to taste

Put shallot and capers in small saucepan with vinegar and water. Simmer until shallot softened and almost all liquid evaporated.
Remove from heat. Add low fat spread and stir until melted and creamy. Add yoghurt and season to taste.

You can add chopped fresh herbs to vary the flavour too, dill, tarragon, chervil or parsley are all very good.

Yoghurt Cheese:
0% yoghurt
dampened cheesecloth

Exactly as for straining ordinary yoghurt to make Greek yoghurt, if you take it a bit further and strain for 24 hours, you will get a firm light fresh cheese. This can be seasoned if you like, or if you keep it plain it can be used just like low fat cream cheese or quark in sweet and savoury recipes.

The best of A Greedy Piglet - The Famous Stan Laurel Cheesecake

This was originally written for A Greedy Piglet on 5th March 2011.  This is a very popular recipe, as it fits very well into a Slimming World diet which I followed at the time. It was included in Total Greek Yoghurt's Kindle recipe book Every Day Eating .

Following up to the original post, since I developed this recipe, Total have released Fruyo real fruit yoghurts. I made a cheesecake using Cherry Fruyo, which was voted by the family as one of my best desserts. Substitute the 100g 0% Total in this recipe with a pot of Cherry Fruyo, reduce the sugar slightly to allow for the sweetening in the fruit yoghurt, and use almond essence instead of the vanilla. You can find frozen black cherries easily in the freezer department of most supermarkets, so I would use those for the fruit sauce.

So we've had the full fat cheesecake. Luscious and creamy and wonderful... and fattening. The Oliver Hardy of the cheesecake world.

Not at all the kind of thing that long thin Stan Laurel would have enjoyed. Oh no. But I bet he would have still relished a bit of skinny cheesecake now and then. And even though I am dieting, so do I. A cheesecake is not just for Christmas, is it?

So my next challenge was to take the Oliver Hardy cheesecake and make it Slimming World friendly.

So how does this look?

Well first off, it is going to be smaller than Oliver's one so that my slender wedge will still take the edge of my creamy cravings but won't cut too much of a swathe through my syn allowance. (If you don't know about Slimming World and the syn allowances, have a look here) I have a little 7 inch 18cm springform tin that will do fine.

Then the base: I have two options, use digestives but fewer of them, or make my own wholemeal shortbread mixture. Actually when I costed them out, they both come out roughly the same in syn value, so you can take your pick. If you have digestives use them, if not, and you don't want the rest of the packet in the house, I'd suggest making your own base. If you decide to use digestives, you will need to sub lower calorie spread of some kind for the butter - I use Yeo Valley Lighter butter, not massively low calorie, but it is based on organic butter rather than margarine, which I prefer for all sorts of reasons.

onwards to the filling, the fattening bit..

So what is most fattening here? The cream cheese and the cream. I know that the cream cheese can be subbed with any soft cheese, but whilst quark is completely free for me to eat, it makes quite a flaky textured cheese cake - I fancy something a little smoother. So how about half fat Philly and Quark mixed? and then I usually sub 0% Total Greek Yoghurt whenever cream is called for, so that could work.

Sugar? Well I have some Light Sugar from Tate & Lyle so that will cut the syn value too.

Eggs, lemons, vanilla, no problems here.

It needs some nice fruit sauce to top it, I don't want to use cooked fruit, and I don't want to use apple jelly either (sugar syns) but if you sprinkle granulated sweetener (something like Candarel or Splenda for example) onto frozen fruit, it makes its own syrup as it thaws. I used a mix of summer berries for a deeply fruity flavour. Job done.

So here we are:

3 digestives, crushed
28g Yeo Valley Lighter butter


50g wholemeal flour
28g Yeo Valley Lighter butter
1tbs Light Sugar (or you can use any granulated sweetener)


100g (half a pack) Light Philadelphia Cream Cheese
tub of Quark
100g 0% Total Greek Yoghurt
2 eggs
1 tbs cornflour
4 tablespoons Light Sugar
juice and zest of a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Follow the instructions for Oliver Hardy's Cheesecake (I've copied them here for you).( If you are making the homemade wholemeal base, just blitz the ingredients for the base in a food processor until they cling together, and press into the base of the lined springform tin, and bake as for the biscuit base. )

Crush the digestive biscuits (either in a bag with a rolling pin or in a food processor). Gently melt the butter and mix into the biscuit crumbs. Press into the base, and slightly up the sides of the tin. Put onto baking tray and bake for 10 mins at Gas mark 6 until golden and starting to crisp (DO NOT GO AND PLAY ON THE COMPUTER AND LOSE TRACK OF THE TIME, so that you come back to a pile of cinders and have to do it again.)

In the meantime, put everything for the filling together in a large bowl and using an electric whisk on low setting, combine until smooth and silky. You don’t want to whisk it, you don’t want any air into the mix, just to fully combine everything.

Tip onto the baked base, and bake in the centre of the oven for around 10 mins at Gas Mark 6, then turn the heat down to Mark 3 and bake for approximately 45 mins in total, checking frequently for the degree of wobble for the last 15 mins. Turn the oven off when wobble is to your liking and, with the door ajar, let the cheesecake cool in the oven. If you have a double oven, you can move it to the 2nd oven – that will be warm from the cooking so that the cake won’t cool too quickly but not so warm that it will carry on cooking. The top may crack as it cools, but cooling it somewhere warm keeps this to a minimum.

Either serve at room temperature or chill, as you prefer, I like to serve with fresh fruit or fruit coulis. Cut the cheesecake into 16 slim slices, which come in at a rather saintly 2 syns per slice if served with fresh or frozen fruit.

with thanks to Tate and Lyle for supplying the sugar and Total for supplying the yoghurt

The best of A Greedy Piglet - the Oliver Hardy New York Cheesecake

Originally written on A Greedy Piglet March 2nd 2011 

I adore cheesecake. Proper cheesecake that is, the baked one, with a light brown crust that breaks to a silky creamy interior. As famously made at Lindy's in New York, and I am sure eaten by Oliver Hardy at some time or another. Well, he was certainly full fat enough.

So for a change of dessert at Christmastime, I made myself this luscious, creamy New York style cheesecake.

I pondered over various recipes, and decided to base this one around Ruth Watson's version from her latest book Something for the Weekend - I am always happy with her recipes, and I picked up this latest book when we treated ourselves to a pre-Christmas stay at her hotel in Orford. It is a great read as ever, Ruth makes me laugh - if you ever watched her on any of episodes of The Hotel Inspector you will know she is blunt as blunt can be - her recipes are just as down to earth.

So here is the original:

I did change it a bit.. I used half Philly and half curd cheese for a slightly less creamy finish. I baked the base for 15 mins before adding the cheesecake mix to make it crisper. And I cooked it at a lower temperature to avoid it inflating - I think the temperature used here sounds too high, I usually cook at gas Mark 3 for about the same time.

Like everyone I judge a cheesecake cooked when it wobbles in the middle without actually sloshing about (you remember... as Nigella put it, “so there is still a hint of inner thigh wobble”). Sometimes it takes longer sometimes less (depends on the gas pressure that day..). As a cheesecake won't deflate like a sponge cake, there is no problem with checking frequently until the wobble is not too squelchy. I have seen a lot of recipes that entail encasing the tin with foil, and cooking in a water bath to ensure that the cheese doesn't inflate and lose its smoothness, but to be honest, it does seem a lot of faff as this comes out perfectly nicely without. I am not trying to win a competition, I just want to eat a cheesecake.

But do please try and let me know if you think it makes a real difference.

Oh, and I added in some lemon juice as well as the vanilla. Because that true New York flavour doesn't come with just lemon, or just vanilla. It needs them both.

I didn't put the poppy seeds on this time (though I have tried them later and they are lovely) because I wanted to taste the blueberries in the light sauce. This was just fresh blueberries in some melted apple jelly. Light, fruity and delicious.

So this is my adjusted recipe:


175g Digestive Biscuits (or thereabouts, don't worry if you are a biscuit or so short)
50g melted unsalted butter


225g caster sugar
3tbs cornflour
2 tsp vanilla extract
juice of one lemon
750g cream cheese (or cream and curd cheese mixed, I used 50/50)
2 large eggs
1 (284ml) carton double cream

9-10inch / 22-24cm diameter springform cake tin, lined with parchment paper to sides and base.
heavy baking tray
Crush the digestive biscuits (either in a bag with a rolling pin or in a food processor). Gently melt the butter and mix into the biscuit crumbs. Press into the base, and slightly up the sides of the tin. Put onto baking tray and bake for 10 mins at Gas mark 6 until golden and starting to crisp (DO NOT GO AND PLAY ON THE COMPUTER AND LOSE TRACK OF THE TIME, so that you come back to a pile of cinders and have to do it again.)

In the meantime, put everything together in a large bowl and using an electric whisk on low setting, combine until smooth and silky. You don't want to whisk it, you don't want any air into the mix, just to fully combine everything.

Tip onto the baked base, and bake in the centre of the oven for around 10 mins at Gas Mark 6, then turn the heat down to Mark 3 and bake for approximately an hour, checking frequently for the degree of wobble for the last 15 mins. Turn the oven off when wobble is to your liking and, with the door ajar, let the cheesecake cool in the oven. If you have a double oven, you can move it to the 2nd oven - that will be warm from the cooking so that the cake won't cool too quickly but not so warm that it will carry on cooking. The top may crack as it cools, but cooling it somewhere warm keeps this to a minimum.

Either serve at room temperature or chill, as you prefer, I like to serve with fresh fruit or fruit coulis.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

A Throwback to the Hessian days of Cranks and Marshall Street for Pie Week

When I was first working as a secretary in the West End, back in the 1970s, there really wasn't much choice if you wanted a filling, inexpensive lunch that wasn't something greasy from a pub, or a sandwich. 

But I was introduced to Cranks in Marshall Street, just off Carnaby Street, and it was a revelation. It was worthy, it was wholemeal, there was hessian on the walls, it was healthy, it was vegetarian. It was round the corner to where I worked in Wardour Street.

It was perfect.

Every day, I would have the same thing. Soup, salad and a roll. Each day it was different as the salad was made up of a selection from different bowls and each day these were different, depending on what had come in from the suppliers, and who was making it. The soup was freshly made each day and was always different. The rolls were solid, wholemeal, and as tasty as anything.

And sometimes, there was pie. Even, if I were lucky,  Homity Pie.

The ingredients are so simple, but like lots of things it is more than the sum of its ingredients. It is deliciously savoury, filling but not stodgy, and a perfect lunch or dinner with salad (and these days, I will often chuck a bit of cold meat alongside. Sorry Cranks...)


  • Shortcrust pastry made with 200g flour - Cranks always used wholemeal flour,but I have to say that I find white flour less heavy.
  • 200g potatoes, peeled, cubed and boiled until tender.
  • 100g onions, peeled, chopped and sauteed until tender but not brown
  • 100g hard mature cheese, grated and split into two lots of 50g
  • one clove of garlic, crushed
  • One handful of chopped parsley
  • a little milk
  • salt and pepper to taste.


Preheat the oven to Gas mark 6
Line 4 x 4inch tartlet cases with the shortcrust pastry (or you can make a large pie, in which case line an 8 inch quiche tin)
Put the potatoes, onions, garlic , parsley, seasoning and half of the cheese into a bowl and mix with a little milk to make a rough not sloppy mix.
Fill into the unbaked tartlet cases and top with the other half of the grated cheese.
Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown on top and the pastry is well cooked.
Allow to cool slightly before serving with salad. 
Cranks is no longer around, too much competition I guess. But whilst it was, it was good.  I miss it.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Nordicana and The Slow Slow Cinnamon Buns

Cinnamon buns are extremely fashionable I will have you know. They are also Very Scandinavian. Very Nordic Noir. Very Spicy and Delicious. Not unlike a lot of Scandinavians...

I had never made them before, but I do like a bit of sweet dough baking (see my Baby Gibassiers) and thought.. well it's not THAT different... they are just sweet dough with cinnamon and butter, oh and some cardamom and lemon, oh and with proper pearl sugar, oh and they have to curl up properly, oh and....what the heck. Let's just make them!

The Nordicana festival had a little competition,  A Great Scandinavian Cinnamon Bun-Off,  to prepare cinnamon buns ready for baking on the premises, to be tasted and judged by a panel of Impressive Scandinavians Trine Hahnemann, Bronte Aurell and Halfdan E plus Honorary Scandinavian for the day, John Whaite. Signe Johansen encouraged me to enter, and in the end I couldn't resist the challenge.

Here they are all sitting a-judging:

 and here are Signe and John looking at their photogenic best.

Anyway back to the buns..

There were several challenges.

One:  How to get a really flavoursome dough, that is sufficiently light yet substantial enough to support the butter and cinnamon. A cinnamon dough has a distinct whirl to it, not unlike a Chelsea bun, so the dough shouldn't be so light that is slumps into an amorophous lump.

Two: I wanted to get to Brick Lane in time to see Signe moderating at a discussion of Nordic food traditions at 10.30. So the buns needed to be ready before I left at half past 9.

Three: Having got them made in time, they had to be cold enough to withstand proofing on the way in, before they got to the fridge to carry on slow proofing ready to be baked around 1.30 for judging at 2.

Four: would my pearl sugar melt on the way in?

So I decided that the best way forward was slowly.  I wanted a LOT of flavour in that dough, I didn't want it tough and hard, I wanted it gently pillowy and soft.  Three days isn't too long for making cinnamon buns is it? Of course not, when each day's work is only minutes each day, and it is time that is doing most of the work.

Here is how I made my slow buns...

Day one:  Preferment

180g white bread flour
110g full cream milk
one pinch instant yeast

Day two: Main dough

All of the preferment from Day one
250g full cream milk
450g 000 flour (or 00 if you can't find 000 flour - try one of the Turkish or Eastern European shops for 000)
13g instant yeast 
2 eggs, lightly beaten
70g Sugar
13g fine salt
1tsp diastatic malt (optional I get mine from The Flour Bin)
zest of one lemon
2 tsp cardamom seeds, finely ground (in a mortar or a spice grinder, I haven't managed to find any ready ground cardamom yet)
100 g unsalted butter, room temperature, chopped

Day three: cinnamon butter
80g unsalted butter, soft room temperature
100g soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Day one:  Scald the milk (I give it 2 minutes in the microwave in the measuring jug, saves on washing up...) and let it cool to no more than 30 degrees Centigrade. This is about blood heat, so if you put your finger in the milk, it should feel neither hot nor cold.  Mix the flour and yeast together and mix in the milk - using a flexible spatula works well. Cover with cling film, and put to one side at room temperature for between 12 and 16 hours.

Day two: Method will depend on whether you have a stand mixer or will be kneading by hand.  If you are kneading by hand, then have a look at this video (repeated from the Gibassier post for your convenience) this is a sticky dough and you will need to use Bertinet's slap and fold method.

I now have my Kenwood Chef and am now a lazy kneader...

Scald and cool the milk as for Day one.

Mix all of the ingredients except the butter together to make a soft, sticky dough. Either mix in a stand mixer until the dough is smooth and starting to look shiny (about 6-8 minutes), or follow the Bertinet video. Reckon that kneading by hand will take you a good 15 minutes. Then add the butter and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and very shiny.

Form into a ball, put into a large bowl and cover with cling film, put into the fridge overnight.

Leave the butter out at room temperature overnight for the cinnamon butter tomorrow so that it is easy to blend.

Day Three:  In a small bowl, mix the butter, sugar and cinnamon to form a smooth evenly brown mixture.

Take the dough from the fridge - it will have risen somewhat although not as much as you might expect. The texture will be slightly stiff, this is good as it will help the dough to roll out. 

Roll the dough into a long rectangle about one centimetre thick, and smear the cinnamon butter all over. I use a spatula for this, or you can use your hands if the butter feels a little hard.  Assuming the narrow end is facing you now, swivel the dough round 90 degrees and roll the dough up like a swiss roll from the wider side, trying to keep the ends as square as possible. Pinch the edge of the sheet together with the main roll firmly so it doesn't come unrolled.

Don't roll the dough too thinly - In the second photo of buns above, I rolled much more thinly, to only about half a centimetre thick, to get more layers. But I don't think that they work as well. The cinnamon butter makes them very slippery and they don't proof as well, so you don't get a lovely pillowiness to the buns.  They still tasted lovely, but I don't think they are as good.

Cut the roll into sections approximately 4 cm wide, (use a serrated or very sharp knife and a slicing movement, don't just press down, you will squash the roll ) and put the pieces on their sides (i.e. swirly side up) into individual cupcake papers. Flatten the cupcake papers out a bit first or the dough will fold up the sides, you want it to sit on the bottom of the paper.

The papers aren't strictly necessary, you can put the buns on a sheet on parchment paper. But the individual papers do keep them apart, they won't spread into each other as much if you prefer them separate. (Both ways are good, but I think the individual ones are easier to bake evenly. On a larger sheet, the outside ones bake darker before the middle is fully cooked )

Brush with egg wash and allow to proof at room temperature for 90 minutes - 2 hours or until very puffy. Brush again with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar.  If you can't get pearl sugar (it is available from both Scandikitchen and from BakeryBits here in the UK) then either use crushed sugar cubes or sprinkle a little sugar on the top afterwards.

Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C (350/180 for a fan oven) gas mark 6, and bake for  approximately 15 minutes until golden brown.  Check the underneath, you want that a nice golden too, not pallid and soggy,

Cool on a rack, and eat while still warm for the finest flavour.

p.s. I won, but you knew that didn't you :)