Friday, April 9, 2010

Don't panic!

THE other week I decided to make an apple custard teacake to take to my mum's place. I'd torn the recipe out of Good Living a year or so ago and never gotten around to making it, but I had a few Granny Smiths in the fruit bowl that needed to be eaten, so it seemed like the perfect fit.

Filled with enthusiasm, I began with the custard. I heated the milk and vanilla until it was steaming but not boiling; whisked the egg yolks with the caster sugar until thick and creamy; carefully poured the hot milk in a thin stream over the yolk mixture until it was combined and smooth; filled the sink with ice water in case of any sudden curdling; then transferred the would-be custard back in to the saucepan and stirred over a low heat.

Then - panic! I turned away to check on the time, stopped stirring, and a dirty great lump appeared, right in the middle of my milky mixture. Thank God I filled the sink, I thought, and plunged the saucepan in the cold water and beat until the mixture smoothed out again.

The only trouble was that now I had a smooth mix, but it was still the consistency of milk, not - as my boyfriend thoughtfully (and helpfully) pointed out - the consistency of custard. And certainly not like the custard his mother used to make. I'd panicked too early, he suggested.

I made the custard cake anyway but it was not like I had imagined it to be, so this week I was determined to make custard until I bloody well got it right ... or at least until it was like Dicko's mother used to make.

As I often do in times of stress, I thought: What would Nigella do? And pulled How To Eat off the shelf. Sure enough, Nigella knew. She recommends using single cream, or pure cream as it's called on my supermarket shelf, and she's incredibly helpful in offering up both a set recipe and a set of guidelines on the quantities of ingredients used.

For every egg yolk used, Nigella says, you'll need 100ml of cream and a heaped teaspoon of caster sugar. You can either infuse the milk with a vanilla pod or stir in about a teaspoon of vanilla extract at the end.

Determined not to panic, I took a deep breath and began. 200ml of cream, heated almost to boiling point, was poured on top of two egg yolks and two teaspoons of sugar that had been whisked together (in the KitchenAid; yeah, I'm lazy) until thick and lightened in colour. Then I washed and dried the saucepan, as Nigella recommends, poured the mix back in and started stirring over low to moderate heat.

It would take 8-10 minutes, Nigella said, and after eight minutes I had, well, milk. But I was determined not to panic, and I kept stirring. Then 10 minutes had gone past. I still had milk. There was swearing. I still had hope, though: it smelled like custard. Surely I hadn't done anything wrong - had I?

I kept stirring, and lo and behold, after 12 minutes there was a visible thickening. I could hardly dare to believe it. Did I have custard? I kept stirring until the 15-minute mark, took it off the stove and gave it a good solid beating in the cold water in the sink.

"That looks more like the custard Mum made!" Dicko said encouragingly.

I popped it into the fridge to chill and made a few meringue nests out of the two egg whites I'd saved from the custard. Then it was the moment of truth: the custard came out of the fridge and I swirled the saucepan. No movement! I stuck my finger in (yes, lazy and disgusting) and it tasted like custard. I took it over to Dicko for the final say.

"That's the custard Mum used to make!"
As you can see from the top of the post, we had it on top of the meringue nests with some berries. Best pavlova ever.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Merry Christmas and a happy new oven!

PLEASE forgive my long silence. The last few months of 2009 passed in a whirl of renovating, moving and swearing - the last item, obviously, caused by the first and second items!

Part of the move, however, was having a whiz-bang new cooktop and oven installed. I cannot describe the hours I lay awake at night agonising about the cooktop and oven: what if I'd measured the holes wrong? What if the new appliances arrived and were the wrong size, the wrong shape, the wrong voltage? What if I just picked the wrong ones? My God, the stress!

But they arrived, and they fit (with a bit of tweaking) and for two weeks I was too scared to do anything more difficult than boil the kettle on the cooktop and toast a sandwich in the oven (which, might I point out, has a special setting for grilling small things like sandwiches or a single chop; I love my oven). I would sit for minutes on end gazing lovingly at the stainless-steel wondrousness of the business end of the kitchen, but I couldn't quite work up the courage to use any of it.

Luckily, Christmas came along.

Every year I take some sort of dessert to my family Christmas, whether I've been asked to or not. I'm not sure whether that makes me a fabulous guest or a really annoying one. This year I was determined to make cupcakes, to give me a chance to use my brilliant cupcake carrier, and in keeping with the Christmas theme I settled on rocky road cupcakes.

To test out both the cupcakes and the oven, I did a test run the week before Christmas, obsessively reading the oven instruction manual to make sure I had the cakes on the right shelf, the right tray, so on and so forth (attentive readers may have noticed that "she'll be right, mate" isn't really part of my vocabulary).

And lo and behold, the cakes (carefully placed on the middle shelf, on a wire rack) rose perfectly evenly, perfectly brown and perfectly cooked. New oven, welcome to the family.

Rocky road cupcakes

Makes about 20

To make the cupcakes

2 tbs cocoa powder

(The recipe says one quantity makes 12 cupcakes. I found it only made 10, or 11 slightly smaller ones, but I do use a Texas cupcake tin, so that probably explains it.)

Once you've made your cupcake batter according to Nigella's recipe, spoon half of it into 10 patty-lined cupcake holes. Put those in an oven pre-heated to 200C, and to the remainder of the batter add the cocoa powder and beat well.

Spoon the chocolate cupcake batter into the patty pans and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until a skewer stuck in the middle comes out clean.

To make the milk chocolate rocky road

150g milk chocolate
150g dark chocolate
150g marshmallows, quartered
100g glace cherries, quartered
a healthy sprinkling of desiccated coconut

Melt the chocolates together and mix in the marshmallows, glace cherries and coconut. Go by eye - if the chocolate looks too runny, toss in a few more marshmallows, cherries, nuts or whatever.

Do the same for the white chocolate rocky road, but with 300g of white chocolate.

To assemble

Using a sharp, pointed knife, cut a circle in the middle of each cupcake and scoop out the inside, as if you are making butterfly cakes. The cake innards can be frozen to make a trifle, or just left in the pantry and eaten over the next few days if you're anything like me.

Use two teaspoons to pile a generous scoop or two of rocky road into each cupcake - white chocolate rocky road for the chocolate cupcakes, milk chocolate rocky road for the vanilla cupcakes.

Dust with sprinkles or other decorations if desired and allow to set at room temperature.