Friday 22 February 2008

Recipe: Chocolate Crêpes with Chocolate Soufflé

How times change! I remember first doing this recipe many years ago, and thinking it was terribly complicated and susceptible to all sorts of things going wrong along the way, and in fact being the sort of dish that has one hovering anxiously beside the oven, and feeling really quite surprised when it is finally plated and served without disaster....

A couple of evenings ago, I found myself taking refuge in it, instead, as one of those "Oh God - it's seven o'clock and nothing yet sorted for dessert" events. The Crêpes were leftovers that had been stored in the freezer (NB: I discovered recently from reading Craig Claiborne that crêpes freeze fantastically well - just put them in a ziplock bag, with no special packing required; always make many more than you need at the time, and freeze the rest for just such an occasion as this). All of the other ingredients were sitting around, available for use - and I got over thinking of soufflés as delicate and fragile things a long time ago!

With the Crêpes already made, the best way to deal with this is to make the soufflé base before you start dinner, then whisk the egg whites and make the soufflé mixture and assemble the Crêpes and bake them after you've cleared the main course. The secret is to make sure that the baking sheet is thoroughly greased and non-stick, so that you don't find you're faffing around at the point of serving and risk either the soufflé deflating or the whole thing getting bashed out of shape.

For Two.

Crêpe Ingredients: 1 egg; 30g chocolate powder; 65g plain flour; 200 ml milk; 50ml cream

Soufflé Ingredients: 50g plain chocolate: 4 Egg Whites; 2 oz sugar (or equivalent volume Splenda); 1 teaspoon Praline Paste (if you have it; if not it won't matter if you leave it out.)


1. Place all of the Crêpe ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed for twenty seconds. Leave to rest for thirty minutes before use.

2. Using an oiled crêpe pan over high heat, make crêpes from the chocolate batter. The proportions given are sufficient for 5-6 crêpes; reserve the unwanted ones for a different dessert on the following day (filled with whipped cream and raspberries they are excellent!), or else freeze them for future use. Set the crêpes aside once they are done, covered in cling film to prevent them drying out.

3. Melt the Chocolate together with the Praline Paste in a zimmertopf or in a bowl over hot water.

4. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

5. Whisk the Egg Whites until firm, then add the sugar/sweetener and continue to whisk until stiff.

6. Stir a little of the beaten Egg White into the melted Chocolate to lighten it, then fold the Chocolate mixture back into the body of the beaten Egg White.

7. On a very well greased (or sprayed with Trennwax) baking sheet, lay a crêpe and spoon two generous spoonfuls of soufflé mixture into the centre of one half of it; with a palette knife, flip the other half of the Crêpe over on top of the soufflé mixture, so that it is a neat semi-circle filled with the soufflé mixture. Repeat with the second Crêpe.

8. Bake in the pre-heated oven. Without a ramekin to slow the cooking process, these will be done quite quickly, and you should check them after 3-4 minutes to see if they have risen sufficiently. In my experience, they will have done.

To serve, sprinkle the Crêpes with icing sugar, then lift them from the baking tray with a palette knife, and serve on heated plates.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Satisfying Appetites....

To the Royal Academy, to see the Russian pictures, about which there has been such a kerfuffle in recent months amongst both the diplomatic and the chattering classes. Having read Brian Sewell's diatribe in The Evening Standard against the exhibition, I was tempted to give it a miss - although, I suspect I was actually just tempted to let his seething criticism justify me in avoiding the heaving crowds that are always so grim at these blockbuster events. In the end, it seemed that the packed rooms in Burlington House were probably a less grim option than having to travel to Russia to see the pictures - which is the only likely alternative; and definitely not my favourite place - and therefore one should at least give it a go. So, we did.

It's clear that a certain type from the British Middle Classes regards queuing as something very definitely for 'other people'. And they themselves have developed a method of standing vaguely in the general area of the front of a queue that 'other people' have formed, with the clear intention of attaching themselves somehow to the head of it whenever it shows any sign of movement. Well, the courtyard at the RA this morning was awash with just that type, all looking wide-eyed in surprise when it was firmly but politely pointed out to them, one-by-one, by the uniformed commisars that yes, indeed there was a queue - even for them - and that yes, indeed, they should join it, and that yes, indeed, the point at which they should join was the rear - down in the general direction of Piccadilly. It provided a degree of entertainment for the rest of us who stood there and quietly froze, as we waited for the doors to open.
At least in Russia, there would have been somebody selling those warming little stuffed dumplings you find for sale everywhere on the streets of Moscow...

And then the scene became strangely like the first day of Harrods' sale: the doors opened, people surged in, and 'the strategy' planned in advance was put into action. Some lost valuable time by peeling off to left and right, to hand in coats or to exchange pre-paid vouchers for tickets. Others - the seasoned campaigners - forged directly up the main stairs and through the shop, to get into the as-yet-empty galleries well in advance of the hordes. The Technical Department has honed a method over the years whereby, in cavalier fashion, he strides straight through at least the first two rooms, with nothing but the merest glance to left and right, and only slows his pace to start looking at things by room three. The best things are never right at the beginning - by his reasoning - and if you give yourself a good two rooms' head start, you stand a chance of getting right round before the crowds catch up with you and start to impede the view. As a method, it has its good points - and so, I couldn't really tell you about the start of The Russians, as I had no more than a sense in the first couple of rooms of a number of large portraits of women in frocks.....

But from room three onwards, I can tell you, it was splendid! Whether Brian Sewell's carping was the rarified perspective from his art-critical pinnacle, or whether he was merely being negative in order to be ornery I couldn't tell you - but I certainly didn't agree with him. OK, the first room of impressionists were a bit run-of-the-mill, but the Gauguins (not normally to my taste) were striking; Matisse's 'Dance' was wonderfully fluid (the same beautiful movement as The Dancing Satyr bronze in Mazara Del Vallo in Sicily); Picasso, and Bracque, and Derain; and on, and on. Some of the gems that had been in the Russian exhibition several years ago at The National Gallery were there: Petrov-Vodkin's 'Bathing the Red Horse' and Altman's beautifully haunting portrait of Anna Akhmatova. The room of neo-primitives was a bit of a cold bath - but then I suppose you can't have everything.....

And I suppose, if there were to be a criticism, then I'd say that it's the fact that they've tried to have everything. Which becomes more than a little indigestible. For me, the demands of trying in one go to assimilate Renoir and Matisse and Chagall and Kandinsky, with a bit of futurism thrown in for good measure, just ends up slightly frying the brain. Which is why I'll be back for another more-focused go, sometime in the next few weeks.....Strategy firmly in place.

If you turn right on Piccadilly as you emerge from the RA, and wander along to the entrance of Burlington Arcade, then there you'll see something else of striking visual intensity. The colours in the window of Ladurée, of mountains of exquisitely-coloured and perfectly-formed macaroons. Delicate and intense and mesmerising. (I hear that Pierre Hermé has given up his day job to go and work for Ladurée, by the way, which is impressive in itself...the King of Pâtisserie devoting his life to macaroons!)

It may not be Art, but an array of Laduree Macaroons is quite definitely a thing of beauty!

Monday 18 February 2008

Recipe: Lamb Shanks double-roast, in Red Wine Sauce

Lamb Shanks. Search for them in any traditional British or French recipe book and you'll search in vain - which is surprising, really, as they seem entirely in keeping with French peasant cooking of the Cassoulet-and-Beans type. Full of flavour, and definitely trencherman's fare! I was interested to find recipes other then my one tried-and-trusted, though, and having looked for them without success in all of the places I would have thought to find them - Carrier, Willan, Grigson - I finally resorted to Larousse Gastronomique and Mrs Beeton. And the mystery was solved. In demonstrating the cuts of lamb available in different countries, Larousse Gastronomique showed a baleful looking beast in various formats, with the dotted 'tear-here' lines indicating how things work in different countries: the French and British versions clearly have rear 'Legs' that go all the way up to the saddle, whilst their American cousin has an extra dotted line delineating the shank as a separate cut. And if you then go and consult Mrs Beeton (from an edition circa 1890), you find the same baleful beast (eerily identical, in fact) as the American Lamb, but in this instance the animal is a mature Sheep, and the cuts are for Mutton. From which one can only assume that it was at that point in history that the transatlantic difference appeared, and that the US cuts of Lamb are in fact the Victorian cuts for Mutton, as Mrs B would have clearly recognised. the recipe. This is unusual in that it is effectively a traditional roast, which is then treated as a pot-roast, and ends up having the best results of both methods: crisp on the outside and meltingly tender within. For absolutely the best result, cook this recipe to completion the day before you want to serve it, and then re-heat it, in its sauce, under some foil, in an oven heated to around 170 degrees C.

For Two.

Ingredients: Two Lamb Shanks; 1 tablespoon Olive Oil; 2 medium sized sprigs of Rosemary; 1 large Garlic Clove, minced; Seasoning; 1 large glass of Red Wine (something quite robust is best).


1. Heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

2. Strip the leaves from the Rosemary sprigs and chop them finely - you should have about a tablespoon of chopped leaves. Combine these in a small bowl with the Garlic, Oil, and Seasoning to taste. Mix well and rub all over the Lamb Shanks.

3. Roast the Shanks one hour in the pre-heated oven. At the end of this time, remove the roasting pan with the Shanks from the oven, and remove the fat from the pan.

4. Turn the oven down to 170 degrees C. Pour the Red Wine into the roasting pan, cover the whole thing loosely with foil, and return the pan to the oven for a further 30 minutes. At the end of this time, if the sauce in the pan (the wine and cooking juices combined) is still too liquid, remove the Shanks to warm plates and reduce the sauce briefly in a small saucepan on the stove before pouring it over the Lamb to serve.