Thursday 6 January 2011

And the last Day of Christmas...

...was in fact yesterday, but since today is Ebufana and therefore another public holiday, it feels as though this is still the final gasp of the Christmas break. The tree will come down today, to go out in the garden to be planted, and then that's it for another year.

Now is the best time to buy Christmas decorations, so I've just gone online to find replacements for the ones which didn't survive this year's festive season (breakages which were nothing to do with me, I hasten to add!). And we're still wondering what happened to the ones I bought last January, which we both remember unwrapping when they arrived, but when it came down to it, neither of us could recall where they were then put for safekeeping- some rather beautiful crystal droplets, I remember, that would have looked splendid on the tree (and possibly might yet, another year, if we ever find them again)

Much Christmas largesse, in the form of books by various lesser-known (or not published in the last few decades, at any rate) food writers: Allan Bay; Ray Compas; Simone Beck; Sonia Stevenson (two from her!); Alain Ducasse (which I mentioned in an earlier post); and Elisabeth Luard. The Technical Department must be feeling seriously in need of greater variety in dinner menus. Last night's supper included two new dishes: a starter of poached egg on a potato galette, dressed with a leek-cream sauce.....and dessert was individual almond marquises...both of which were excellent - so, I suppose his strategy works.

Perfect! - the sun is coming out, so I can let the junior four-footed out into the garden, and get on with transplanting things...half a dozen roses are getting a new home, and I need to move one of the smaller peach trees from one side of the North Lawn to the other.

No pictures in this post, as my camera and computer don't want to talk to each other at the moment, and the thought of trying to locate the instruction book for either, right now, is not something I can even bear to contemplate.

Tonight's Dinner:

Pain de Laitue

Shepherds Pie (made with the last of the half-lamb which we bought as a complete carcase from one fo the farmers in Belforte, and roast for dinner over New Year)

Lemon Cream.

Monday 3 January 2011

Recipe: Cream & Walnut Tart

I've been playing with this recipe for some time now, and it's taken quite a few attempts before being satisfied that I've worked out exactly how to get the result I want - which is a rich, but light cream tart, against the sweetness of which the slight but insistent bitterness of fresh walnuts works perfectly. This tart has all of the luxurious self-indulgence of a white chocolate ganache, but without the cloying richness which tends to make white chocolate tart heavy going after a mouthful or two.

The recipe is both simple and challenging at the same time: there are really only three steps involved, but the process of reducing the cream for the filling will differ depending entirely on the fat content of the cream you use - with italian cream, which is somewhere between single and double cream, I need to reduce it for an hour before I've got all of the water out; but with double cream, if I'm making this in the UK, then it will be sufficiently reduced in about half that time. The secret is to stand over the pan, the first time you make the tart, and keep an eagle eye on it: the cream will be sufficiently reduced at the point where it becomes very thick (the consistency of porridge, really) and starts, very slightly to change colour (which I imagine is the sugar within the mixture starting to caramelise, once all the water has been removed from the cream). At this point, the cream can be removed from the heat, as it will now set properly once it has been poured into the pastry shell, such that after several hours it can be cut into neat slices; if the water hasn't all been removed from the cream, then it will never thicken properly, and when you come to cut the tart, the filling will run all over the place.

It's worth getting it right - the result really is delicious. Even more so if served with a few fresh raspberries.

For an 8" diameter tart.

Ingredients: Shortcrust pastry, made with 125g Butter, 300g Flour, 50 ml cld water, & a large pinch of Salt; 750 ml Cream (see note above); 60g Sugar; 10 Walnuts, either in halves or in large pieces.


1. Grease an 8" false-bottomed tart tin, and line it with the rolled-out shortcrust pastry. Bake blind for ten or fifteen minutes in a 200 degree C oven, then remove the weights and finish baking it completely for another ten minutes or so, until the base of the pastry shell is crisp and golden brown. Leave aside to cool.

2. Put the Cream and Sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. As soon as the Cream begins to bubble, reduce the heat so that the Cream visibly simmers and keep it at that temperature as the liquid reduces, stirring frequently. (The level of heat required will again depend on the sort of Cream being used; in Italy, if I go down to the lowest flame, then the cream stops simmering, but with thicker cream, in London, not only does the flame have to be as low as possible, but I also have to put the pan over a heat-diffuser - the first time of doing it has to be a process of trial-and-error). Carry on reducing the Cream until it is very thick, and begins very slightly to colour. At this point, take the pan off the heat.

3. Arrange the Walnut pieces in the base of the cooked pastry shell. Transfer the Cream to a jug, and carefully pour it over the Walnuts, until the shell is filled (best to pour over the back of a spoon, as this diffuses the flow of the cream, and stops all of the walnut pieces from being pushed to the edge of the tart).

4. Leave to 'set' for at least four hours. Best left in a cool place to do this, although NOT in the fridge, as this will just make the pastry soggy.