Tag Archives: Technique

Gravad Lax: Buried Treasure

Gravad Lax with creamy dill sauce

A Christmas Cracker

I love trying food from different cultures, especially as a different take on Christmas food, such as our Aussie Christmas dinner. I guess that by now, Swedish food isn’t so different for me, but I thought I’d share a favourite recipe of mine.

A traditional Swedish julbord, or “Christmas table” is a pretty meat-heavy affair, eaten at 4pm on Christmas eve, after the nation has sprung to life again following their Disney favourite; “Kalle Anka och hans vänner önskar God Jul” or “Donald Duck And His Friends Wish You Happy Christmas”. It is always the same clips, and this is one Christmas tradition I’m not overkeen on, but when in Stockholm…

Anyway, back to the julbord; it groans under a ham, which for me this year was a wild boar one, because the out-laws know I don’t like to eat factory farmed meat; various kinds of inglagd sill ; cold cuts; sausages; lutfisk; spare ribs; and Janssons Frestelse.

In my family, we also often have gravad lax. Also known as gravlax, gravlaks, graavilohi, or graflax depending on where you are in Scandinavia. In any country, it means buried salmon. In times before refrigeration, especially in northern European countries where snow covered the ground for a good part of the year, curing and burying meat was a great way to preserve it. Originally, people would use spruce or pine needles in the cure, but the balance needs to be perfect if your fish is not to end up tasting of a certain kind of disinfectant.

These days, everyone can make this easy recipe; you don’t even need a spade! In fact, you still have time to make it in time for a new year’s gathering, if you are having one. It looks impressive, for relatively little effort, and it is a big hit.

Organic Farmed Salmon

Organic Farmed Salmon

One thing I must urge you is to source your fish well. The increase in popularity of salmon in the last decade or so is concurrent with fish farming, most of which causes horrible environmental damage, due to over feeding and routine, excessive use of antibiotics. At the same time wild stocks are seriously dwindling, due to overfishing, ocean acidification and habitat destruction. In my opinion, salmon should be a treat, eaten very occasionally, so that we can afford to eat the best organically farmed salmon we can, meaning there is no unnecessary antibiotic use, and better care is taken to ensure that the fish are not over fed. This cure also works well for other types of fish, so you could still enjoy the recipe with cheap and plentiful fish, such as mackerel, or herring, so do feel free to experiment.

I made this amount of salmon for a large party, so you can also reduce the amounts of fish you use, but you must have enough cure to really cover the fish, so make a little more of that than you think you might need for the amount of fish that you have.

Recipe: Gravad Lax With A Creamy Mustard Sauce

Ingredients

For the Salmon:
100 g demerera sugar

75 g sea salt

100 g dill

1 tbsp juniper berries crushed

1.5 kg salmon fillet, halved

3 tbsp brandy

3-4 bay leaves

For the Sauce:
250 ml crème fraîche

2-3 tbsp finely chopped dill, depending on how much you like it

2 tbsp wholegrain mustard

1 tbsp runny honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Gravad Lax mix

A Fitting Salmon Send Off

Mix together the salt and sugar until really well combined. Remove the stalks from the dill and chop the rest finely. Mix into the cure with the juniper berries. The cure needs to look pretty green and herby, because you want to get a lot of flavour in there.

In a shallow dish, get some cling film or a cheesecloth, and coat with about a quarter of the cure. Press one half of the fish down well into the cure, skin side down. Rub the cure into the skin, and leave skin side down on the wrapping.

Then you need to load the flesh with the cure. Do this by brushing the flesh with half the brandy and laying about another quarter of the cure over the flesh. Lay a few bay leaves over the fish.

Repeat the brandy and cure on the flesh of the second fillet. Once it is well covered, then lay it on the first fillet, so they are flesh to flesh. If the cure falls out, tuck it back between the fillets.

Rub the last of the cure into the skin of the second fillet. Wrap the fillets tightly together. If you are using cheesecloth, bind it with a series of butcher’s knots, as tight as you can get. The fish will lose liquid as it cures, so it is best to keep it in the shallow dish, unless you really like cleaning the contents of your fridge.

Weigh down the fish, by piling a load of tins on top of a baking sheet on top of the fillets, and placing the whole lot into the fridge. Leave it to cure for 3 days, turning once each day. Rinse off and pat dry with kitchen towel before serving.

What Gravad Lax Should Look Like

The Finished Product

To make the sauce, simply mix together the crème fraîche, dill, mustard and the honey. Season to taste.

Serve with the thinly sliced gravad lax on bread, melba toast or knäckebröd, as a delicious starter or hors d’oeuvre.

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I Want (Fennel) Candy

Candied Fennel

Sweet and Fresh

Having been inspired to start blogging again, I have been making the most of recent inspiration for the next few Feast posts. The cooking and recipes, as always, are my own, but credit for the dishes are definitely due elsewhere. I take a magpie approach to food, often finding shiny little pieces here and there. Maybe one day I’ll enter the 21st century and get myself a smart phone, but for now, I forage for ideas, as well as edibles, and record them all in a series of notebooks, which I have to go digging through in order to remember the inspirations. Does anyone else do this? Please tell me that I am not the only one scribbling things down furtively in restaurants, shops and even the street. For me, it is like foraging and farming in note form, and as much of an obsession as they are for me in real life.

I’m sure we are all familiar with candied peel, and even crystalised angelica, if you are fond of cake decoration. These days , it seems that candied vegetables of all nature are appearing on both sweet and savoury dishes in restaurants and pop ups up and down the country. One of the first, and the one that instantly caught my magpie eye was candied fennel. I have also seen candied celery and beets (especially chioggia beets) among other things on menus, although I find the idea of them much less appealing.

Fennel is one of my favourite vegetables, and I love it in risotto, soup, and salad, braised, roasted and raw. This is a great way to use the tougher outer leaves and stalky bits if you are not keeping them for stock, too.

This version is really simple, despite my fears that it may require multiple exposures to sugar syrups of varying strengths, it isn’t the case. I kept mine plain, but they are also good served as sweets, and sprinkled with sugar.

Today’s recipe was inspired by Simon Rogan, who is a far better forager and cook than I could ever hope to be. I can’t remember where I first heard about it, but I suspect it was on a cookery programme, because  I have written down “candied fennel, Rogan. V. interesting, possibly for strawberry tarts? Experiment”. I finally got round to making this, as part of an even wider experiment, that does not involve strawberries or tarts of any kind, but you’ll have to wait until my next Feast post to find out more about what I wanted them for. This cliffhanger is not quite of Eastenders Duff Duff proportions, but hopefully, you’ll want to keep reading.

Recipe: Candied fennel

Ingredients

50 g sugar

50 ml water

1 tbsp lemon juice

Half a fennel bulb diced

Method

Make a simple sugar with the water, sugar and lemon juice. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the fennel. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until the fennel is translucent, but retains some texture. It took me about 15 minutes, but it depends on the size of the dice,  and how much bite you want them to have.

Remove from the heat, and strain off the cooking syrup. Don’t discard this, it is perfectly good for other uses, and you know it’s a shame to waste such a tasty sauce.

Put some greaseproof paper, wax side up on a baking tray, and spread the fennel dice out into a single layer. Allow to cool on the tray, then store in an airtight container before use.

Enjoy them on their own, with sugar or as part of something delicious.

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A Stock From Scraps

Vegetable Stock

The Basis of Many, Many Meals

Today’s recipe was inspired by a request from a friend who reads Edible Things. It is great to hear from people, so if you have any requests, let me know, and I can blog about those too.

If you have a recipe you’d like to see, or something to inspire, please feel free to get in touch or find me on twitter.

Anyway, my friend asked about how to make vegetable stock, particularly in reference to making stock from scraps. Obviously, she has come to exactly the right place. I never throw anything out if I can help it. I was accused of being from the 1950s when I admitted to an acquaintance that I make my own stock. He doesn’t know what flavour he is missing out on!

In my freezer, there is an entire drawer given over to scraps and offcuts of one kind or another.  I keep them separate in bags or freezer containers (for the meat products), ready to be used later. I routinely keep and freeze the stalks and outer leaves of cabbage; the tough outer leaves of fennel; carrot tops and peel; the tops of leeks; and the root and tip of onions that I have chopped for other dishes, and the stalks of any herbs where I have only needed to use the leaves.I would probably also keep the gnarly bits at the bottom of a head of celery too, if it weren’t for the fact that I have guinea pigs that eat them.

Frozen Food Trimmings

Stock Drawer

Currently there are also apple cores, lemon and orange zests, bones from a chicken, pork fat and rind, and a whole load of vegetable offcuts and peels. There will be a use for all of these in various stocks, jellies, sauces, or something.

I actually don’t like the term food waste when talking about unloved offcuts and trimming. There is so much you can do with them, up to and including composting, which I also do, but only when I have got the maximum value from them first.

Obviously, I know that most people do not have the freezer space or the geekiness to save stuff like I do, but if you do nothing else with your “waste”, do give stock a go. I guarantee that it really easy, and will really improve the flavour of soups, stews, sauces and gravies.

I make a number of different stocks, so I bag my veggies separately, because  I don’t want cabbage in a chicken stock, for example. If you have limited space, put them all into the same bag and chop them up a little. If you have no freezer space at all, you can make a quick stock using scraps, and supplementing it with the odd celery stick or whatever. The finished stock will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks, in an airtight container, so you can still add it to dishes (NB it will be shorter for meat stock), and have great-tasting stock.

You can pretty much use what you want in a stock. I know that some people use potato peelings in stock, although I personally don’t like the flavour it lends. Some people also choose to put the papery onion skins in, although this will mostly impart a yellow colour, so again, I tend not to bother. Similarly, beetroot tops and peel can be used, but it will both colour and flavour the stock.

I have used pumpkin, pea pods, lettuce that looks as though it is going over, the ends of aubergine, tomato skins, mushroom trimmings,asparagus ends, the leaves of celariac,  beets and carrots at different times. As long as you wash the vegetables thoroughly before freezing, or putting straight into the stock pot, it really is up to you, and experimentation is the key for your tastes, and the dishes that you cook with.

There are a few vegetables that you cannot use the leaves from, and this includes rhubarb (which are a vegetable, but used as a fruit), aubergine and parsnip leaves. I have used the vines of tomatoes, but not the leaves.

The basis for most stock is the triumvirate of celery, carrot and onion (or leek – they are the same family).This is the basis of both meat and vegetarian stocks. It is really a question of balance. In the recipe below, I have outlined the rough proportions that I used. For vegetable stock, I try to use a cabbage (or broccoli stalks, or chard or something similar) in my veg stocks, because it gives a depth of flavour.

As you get more used to scrap stock, you will also develop a sense of the proportions of each that you want. I can do it by eye now. It does not take long to gain confidence in this technique. And believe me, you will really be glad that you gave it a go.

Basic Stock Amount, by eye

An Eyeful

You also don’t have to wait until you have the same amounts as I do. You can make stock with the ends of one leek, the peel and tops from one carrot and a single cabbage leaf, if that is all you have. Really, nothing is set in stone for this, the ingredients are down to what you have.

Recipe: Vegetable Stock

Ingredients

250 g leek/onion trimmings(frozen weight)

150 g carrot peel

2 celery stalks, (it weighed about 150 g)

50 g herb stalks, including mint, parsley & thyme (if making meat stock, I would most likely leave out the mint stalks)

50 g cabbage stalks & leaves

100 g fennel leaves

2 dried bay leaves. I have a bay tree, so I usually use fresh bay, if you are doing so, double the amount given in your recipe

10 or so peppercorns

3 cloves

pinch salt

You can also use other spices. It will depend on what you want to use the stock for. I use pepper and cloves for a generic stock, but if I wanted an asian one, I would add cinnamon and star anise. But, when I want to make a pho, or something, I take my generic stock and add the spices at the time. Again, this is a matter of your own taste.

2½ l cold water (or enough to just cover the vegetables that you have, although bear in mind that they will float)

Method

I  use a very large saucepan for making stock (my stockpot), but even if you have an average sized one, you will need a well-fitting lid for it.

Put all of the vegetable trimmings in the pan. I chuck them in from frozen, having washed them before I froze them. You can also put fresh ones in, it doesn’t matter. Cover the vegetables with cold water, and put the lid on the pan.

Stock ingredients with water to cover

Put a Lid On It

Bring the water up to the boil, then turn it down to a gentle simmer. Keep the lid on the pan while it simmers.

A Simmer Plate

My Simmer Plate

I have a simmer plate, which I like to use, because I can turn the hob down to the lowest setting, and it distributes the heat more evenly across the pan. They are not essential though, so  don’t worry if you don’t have one. Let it simmer for about an hour (longer for meat stocks, depending on the size of the bone that you have).

Allow it to cool with the vegetables still in it, then strain the liquid. This is your stock. If you are still reluctant to throw away your vegetables, you can take a little of the stock and the veg, and blend it up, and you have the very tasty basis of a soup that you can either eat like that, or add more things to for bulk. Every aspect of making stock is about taste, not waste. If you are making meat stocks, obviously, you should remove the bones before you do this.

The stock can be used as is. If you have limited freezer space, you can boil the stock to reduce it by half, which will concentrate the flavour. Don’t use a lid on your pan for this stage.

I measure off half litres and put them in into individual containers (usually take away ones are fine, they stack and they have lids), which I label and freeze. I find that this is a convenient amount to use in most recipes.

They are easily defrosted on a worktop, or if you are less organised, you can heat them in a microwave or a pan ready for immediate use.

If you don’t have a lot of space, concentrate the stock, you can freeze them in ice cube trays, then transfer them to a bag once frozen.

Whichever way you freeze it, don’t forget to label, as there is nothing more irritating than forgetting them in the freezer, then scratching your head a few weeks later when you find them again.

So there you go; cheap, practically effortless, and really tasty stock, that you know is right for you. It doesn’t contain any hidden ingredients, so you know it will be suitable for your friends with special dietary requirements or preferences. And you have the basis for many soups, dishes, sauces and whatever you like really. This stock of scraps is really much, much more than the sum of its parts!

Update: I have entered this post into Turquoise Lemon’s No Waste Food Challenge, which is all about fennel for the month of April

Turquioise Lemon's No Waste Food Challenge

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Custard – a Step by Step Guide

You may have noticed by now that I am rather fond of dishes that involve custard. This is partly because I can only get Vla in the Netherlands, which is too sweet for use on desserts, and has been thickened with flour; but partly because homemade custard is much more tasty than it’s packet counterpart . It would, indeed, be possible to add Bird’s Custard to the list of Stuff Visitors Must Bring From the Motherland, but actually, making custard is relatively easy, so I don’t usually bother.

As it is so easy, and I have a couple of recipes coming up that require custard (and many more to follow, I’m sure) I thought that I would give a quick step-by-step guide, to save me typing out the method all the time.  The recipe calls for the use of vanilla bean. I know they are expensive, but they really are superior to using vanilla extract, so try to get them if you can. There is a good vanilla bean paste on the market too, that would be a better substitute if you really have to. Of course, I have managed to find a way to eke out the most value from a single vanilla bean, and nothing is wasted!

Most of the time, a recipe will call for you to split a vanilla pod in half, then add all of the seeds, and the pod to the warming milk/ milk replacement. I usually only ever scrape half of the bean, and add the seeds to the liquid. The exception to this is when making ice cream, or a LOT of custard, as these will require a whole pod.  I always add the split pod too, but when the milk has warmed through, I remove the pod, rinse, and dry the halves. When they are dry, I put them aside in an airtight container (a small jar with a lid). The next time that I need to make a custard, I still have seeds from half of the pod, and the old pod to add to the milk, so I get double the custard for the price of one.

Still not done, you can then dry the pods for a second time, and snip them into shorter lengths. Add these to an airtight jar filled with sugar. The remaining oils in the pod will infuse, leaving you with vanilla sugar. This is a much more acceptable substitute for vanilla pods in your next batch of custard, than using vanilla extract. There are many other recipes that you can use this in. I find stewing fruit with a little of this sugar is a really great addition. The vanilla pods will continue to be useful in this way for a few weeks. When they are dried up, they have imparted all their flavour to the sugar, and only then should you discard (or better yet, compost) them. That is a lot of value from one lowly bean, making it all a lot more worthwhile!

I have not given proportions here, as this will vary from recipe to recipe, whether you are using milk, cream, soya milk or even coconut milk (which is excellent in custard – I recommend that you give it a go). You can also make savoury custards but the methodology differs, so this is for sweet custards only.

STEP ONE – The Milk

Flavoured milk, just below boilng point

When the milk looks like this, remove from the heat

The milk (or replacement) has to carry the flavour. Usually, this will be vanilla, but could also be cocoa, ginger or fruit syrups. Whatever flavour you are adding needs to get heated with the milk. Some flavours, like the vanilla will infuse sufficiently having been brought up to the boiling point. Others will need to steep for a while before you heat the milk, to intensify their flavour.

Whichever way, you will need to gently bring the milk up to boiling point, but try not to let it boil. You will have reached this point when there are small bubbles at the sides of the pan. Take it off the heat at this point.

STEP TWO – The Eggs

While the milk is slowly coming to the boil, separate your eggs. I have assumed that a picture is not necessary for this part of step two. Be careful not to get yolk in your whites. I advise breaking each egg over a small, separate container before adding the whites and the yolks to the main batches. This way if any do break, you haven’t lost the lot. I have also taken a risk on scooping out some egg yolk when I managed to get a little bit (and I stress it was little) of yolk in my whites once when I didn’t follow my own advice, and it turned out OK, with no discernible effect on the yolks, but it was not great worrying about it.

Don’t throw away the egg whites. They make great meringues and macarons. They also freeze well, if you don’t have time to do something with them straight away. I would love to hear any other suggestions for using up egg whites, particularly in savoury dishes, if you have them. Although egg white omlets need not apply!

Egg yolks and sugar, whisked until pale

Egg yolks and sugar, whisked until pale

Once you have your egg yolks, you need to combine with the sugar, by whisking them together, until the mixture is pale.

A tip here is not to add the sugar to the egg yolks unless you are going to whisk them straight away. If sugar is left on the yolks, it will change them, and a skin will form, making the end result a little bit lumpy. This would be the time not to answer the phone if anyone rings!

It is the yolks that act as the thickening agent. I have heard that it is possible to make a sort of vegan custard, using soy flour as a thickener, and coconut milk, but I have never tried this method. Anyway, my point in telling you this is that you need the egg yolks – don’t be tempted to cut down on these, unless you also cut down on liquid too.

STEP THREE – Combining Eggs and Milk

Adding milk to eggs to make custard, slowly at first

Add a small amount of milk first

Some people will tell you that this is the hard part of the custard making process. As long as you don’t let it intimidate you, and you have a bit of patience, it need not be difficult. There is a risk that you could scramble the eggs, if you heat them up too quickly in one spot. This only happens if you apply direct heat to them, or if you try to add too much hot liquid at once.

An easy way to get around this is to only add a small amount of milk at first (really, only 20-30 ml), and make sure that you have whisked it in well before adding the next lot of milk.

You will need to put a damp cloth under your bowl, as I have done here, to stop it sliding around as you whisk, which leaves you with both hands for custard, not bowl-stabilisation.

Whisking in the first bit of milk

Thoroughly combine the first bit of milk before adding more

You can gradually increase the amount that you add each time. At some point, the egg will become quite liquid, at which point you have custard – congratulations! You  can add the remaining milk in a continuous stream, as long as you continue to whisk the custard all the time as you do so.

Adding Milk faster, continuing to whisk

You can start to add the milk faster, but continue whisking

I usually continue to whisk the custard for a little while, once all the milk has been added, more from habit than anything else, I think.

Whisking well to make sure the milk & eggs are thoroughly combined

Give the custard a whisk after all the milk is added, to ensure it is all combined well

STEP FOUR – Thickening the Custard

Custard, not yet thickened

When you return the custard to the pan, it will look like this

Next, the custard needs to be thickened. If you are making custard from scratch, you will need to stir it constantly. There is no getting away from this. I like to see it as spending time with the custard rather than getting impatient about it. Making custard can be relaxing, and fairly zen, if you let it.

Return the custard to the pan that you heated your milk in. Put it on a low heat and start to stir. You need to try to stir so that you are  moving the wooden spoon over all of the base of the pan, so that no custard can catch on the bottom, and cause lumps.

As it cooks, the custard will gradually start to thicken. When you draw a line on the back of the spoon, and the line stays there, and does not run, then your custard is done.

Thickened, Warm Custard

You know your custard is done when you get a line on your spoon

Never allow the custard to boil at this stage. If it boils, you will split it, and will end up with lumpy, scrambled custard, which will taste nice, but will look awful and the texture in your mouth will be horrible.

If this does happen, don’t despair too much. It can be salvaged to make it passable again, but it will have lost a little of the rich, silky texture that good custard is known for.

You can let the split custard cool a little, then put it into a food processor. Start it on a low setting, and gradually increase the speed and keep going until it is smooth again. I got this tip from the Accidental Hedonist a very long time ago, when I first started making custards, and one split on me (or rather, I split it, if we are going for full disclosure…). It really works, and the custard will be almost as good as new.

You can pour custard, hot, onto pies and puddings, baked fruits, or fresh ones. You can chill it for use in trifles or flans. Once chilled, you can cover  it with sugar that you burn under a blow torch, or a very hot grill for a créme brulée. You can bake it in the oven. You can even bathe in it to demonstrate how wacky you can be to raise money for charity, if you really must (not recommended, better use Bird’s for this purpose). Whatever you do with it, you will have a lovely homemade treat that will impress your friends, and that you can be very proud of.

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Bun’s the Word for Chinese New Year

Dragon in China

Lóng Nián Kuài Lè Happy Year of the Dragon

(c) M. Medeiros 2010

Monday was Chinese New Year, so I decided that I would cook Chinese food. The Lunar New Year is the most part of the most important festival in the Chinese calendar, Chūn Jié (Spring Festival). Anyone who has Chinatown in a part of their city will know what a great party it is. It started on Monday, and will go on until the 15th day of the Lunar Calendar, when it will end with the  Festival of Lanterns.

The Chinese have a number of traditional foods for their Lunar New Year celebrations. They like to eat noodles, which must remain uncut for longevity. I cheated a bit and decided that the noodles in the Pho would have to do for this. It was eaten for the same meal, so it counts, right?

They also eat chicken, to represent good fortune, and shiitake mushrooms to fulfill wishes. I had some shredded chicken in the fridge that I had stripped from chicken carcasses that I used for stock, and I had to get some shiitake mushrooms for the pho anyway, so I wanted to use these as the basis for my Chinese meal.

I know that I am going on about it a bit, but we were lucky enough to sample some amazing Chinese food in Sydney. Some of which I blogged about, but a lot of which I didn’t. My recent experience led me to recall the vegan yum cha at Bodhi, where the Hom Bao (steamed buns) were incredible.

Hom Bao would also help me hit some more New Year’s Resolutions;  make more asian food, and bake more bread. Given that I coud also use up leftovers, there were really few other options for my first chinese meal of the year.

So, I threw myself right in at the deep end, and decided to make two fillings for Hom Bao, made two ways.  One was meaty, and used the chicken, and the other was vegetarian. It would have been vegan, but vegetarian oyster sauce has milk protein in it apparently. Who knew?

I am not going to lie, these buns are not a trivial undertaking, and involve several techniques. However, the results are really worth it, with a casing of sweet, soft dough, and rich savoury fillings.

Next time, I will make sure that I have some guests to share them with.

Recipe: Hom Bao

Ingredients

For the bun starter:

1 sachet dry active yeast

4 tbsp plain flour

4 tbsp warm (not hot, you need to be able to comfortably put a finger in it) water

1 tsp caster sugar

For the bun dough:

110 ml lukewarm water – if you can’t measure this accurately in a jug, weigh it (110 g)

200 g plain flour

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp vegetable oil (not one with a strong flavour)

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp baking Powder

For the Chicken Filling:

100 g cooked chicken, shredded

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 spring onions, sliced thinly

1 tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp sugar

For the Mushroom Filling:

½ small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

A little vegetable oil for frying

2 cm lump root ginger

½ leek

100 g shiitake mushrooms, or mix of shiitake & oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped.

1 tsp chinese five spice powder

1 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce (or make your own, and you can make it vegan)

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)

Method

Firstly, make the bun starter. Mix together the flour, water & sugar so the sugar starts to dissolve. Sprinkle in the yeast. and mix well.

Bun dough starter

Starter at the very beginning

Set it aside for 30 minutes to allow the yeast to start to work.

Bun dough starter after 30 mins

The starter develops bubbles and will rise a little

Add the rest of the dough ingredients, except for the baking powder, and combine well, until it comes together into a dough.

Bun dough

Dough formed

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, by holding onto the end of the dough with the fingers of one hand, then pushing the top of the dough down and away from you with the other hand. Fold it in half, then make a quarter turn.  Keep repeating the kneading action until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. This should take about 10 minutes. If you over or under knead the dough, it will affect the bread, but it is easy to know when to stop kneading, this will be at the point when a finger jabbed into the dough stays there, and does not disappear.

dough, after first knead

Fingers sticking – good

Then put it into a lightly oiled bowl (a large one). The oil should not be strongly flavoured, but you need it to stop the dough from sticking to the bowl.

Dough ball before rising

Dough balls!

Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, and place it in a warm place. I use the top of my stairs, which is the warmest place in my flat, due to there being a door at the top of them. You can put it in your warmest room, or an airing cupboard if you have one. Don’t put the bowl directly on a radiator, and keep it out of draughts if you can. Leave it to prove for a few hours (maybe 2-3) until the dough has tripled in size

Dough after proving

Proved, you have large dough balls

While the dough is proving, make the fillings, then set them both aside to go cold.

For the chicken filling, gently sweat the onion and the garlic until translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly. The mixture should not be very liquid, so if it is, slake a little bit of cornflour, and stir it in.

Cicken & Soy Filling

Soy Chicken Lickin’

For the mushroom filling, sweat the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and the ginger and cook until you can smell them.

You will have julienned the leek as part of the preparations. the julienne need to be small.

Julienned leek

Fine cuts

Add these and the mushrooms to the pan, and cook down until the leeks are silken. You will need to stir this so that the leeks don’t burn. The observant may notice that I have sliced my mushrooms instead of chopping them. Don’t do this, it makes the buns harder to stuff. Chopped will be better.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Again, you don’t want it too liquid, so cook it down if it is runny.

Mushroom Filling

Oyster mushroom filling – much tastier than it looks

When your dough has risen, knock it down (give it a punch until the air goes out of it), then spread it onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle evenly with the baking powder, then knead it again for about 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 2, using a sharp knife. Put one half back into the oiled bowl, and cover it again. Roll the other half into a sausage, then divide it up into 8-12 pieces.

Divide the dough ino bun size

Bun Size Dough Balls

Put any dough that you are not working on back into your bowl and cover it over.

Shape each small dough piece into a round, then flatten with your hands

Flattening the dough

As flat as a Hom Bao

Place about a tablespoon of filling into the centre of the flattened disk.

Buns and filling

Filling

Then draw up the sides of the bun as follows:

Half & pinch

Fold in half over the filling & pinch the dough together

Stretch out sides

Stretch the sides out a bit

Be careful not to stretch the dough too thin,or tear it, because it will split when you cook it.

Pinch together

Pinch the sides together

Then bring the ‘gaps’ to the centre and pinch them all together to form a seal.

Sealed Hom Bao

Sealed Hom Bao

Place, sealed side down, on a 10 cm square of greaseproof paper.

The finished bun

The Finished Bun

Put the bun aside in a warm room, covered with a clean tea towel to prove for a bit more. You should find that you get better as you go along, my last buns were certainly a lot quicker than the first ones.

Repeat until you have finished the dough. You might have a little bit of filling left over, but that’s OK. I used my leftover mushroom mixture up in an omlette, and I intend to have the chicken with a jacket potato.

After about 30 minutes, the buns will have risen a bit more, and should look puffy.

Hom Boa after final proving

Buns – done!

You can then steam the buns over a little water, or brush them with egg wash and bake them in the centre of an oven at 180°C. Either way, they will take about 15-20 minutes, until they are fluffy and hot.

Hom Bao two ways

Hom Bao Two Ways – Golden and Steamed

I split the bao in the front, to show you the filling. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture the steam, but there was a lot.

You cannot freeze the baked bao, but the steamed version freezes beautifully, and they will last a long time. Freeze after steaming, by placing on it’s cooking paper into one of those plastic takeaway cartons. You can fit three or four in each, depending on the size of of your bao.

Steam from frozen, still on the paper. Stick a  knife in to make sure they are warm all the way through before serving.

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Making Meringues

I am sure that you may have noticed by now that I use a lot of egg yolks – in stuff like custards, mayonnaises, pasta, pastry and sauces. This leaves me with a lot of egg whites to use up.  Since I hate waste, I try always to use them, which invariably means making macaroons, and meringues. I need to expand this repertoire, so expect to see consommés and more stir fries appearing here soon. If you have other suggestions for using up egg whites (although not the egg-white omelette, please, some things are a step too far, even for me!) feel free to leave them in the comments.

I had originally intended to make advocaat, in keeping with the Anglo-Dutch theme for my party, but I ran out of time. However, this time, the advocaat was actually the by-product of the intention to make meringues, instead of the usual situation where I have a load of egg whites left over from something else. No one missed the advocaat, anyway!

Since I make them so much, I thought that I would share my technique here. I haven’t given a recipe, as it will depend on how many egg whites you have and to some extent how old they are.

Start by heating the oven to 110°C. Then measure out  45 g sugar for each egg white. I like to use raw cane sugar, but you can also use caster, granulated or icing sugar. I have also seen sugar solution, but that seems to be for Italian or Swiss style meringues, and I tend to stick with French. It is possible to use soft brown sugar, but be aware that this makes it very hard to get a crisp, dry meringue. I think this technique may be best left alone or, if you insist, only use it to top lemon meringue pie.

Put the egg whites in a very clean bowl. There must be no fat or detergent in it. If you are unsure, wipe it with the cut side of a lemon (or other citrus), which will act as a degreaser. If the bowl has any fat, it may affect the ability of the eggs to maintain the air that you are about to whip into them. The same goes if there are any traces of egg yolk, so be careful when separating the egg, too. Note that the fresher the egg, the less likely that the egg yolk is to break when you separate it.

Next, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. This is when the egg whites look drier, the whisk or a spoon will create peaks when you remove it from the mixture, and if you are brave, you can upend the bowl and the egg white will not slide out. I would advise using an electric whisk if you don’t want it to take you hours.

Egg Whites at the Stiff Peak stage

The stiff peak - sadly lacking in many ski resorts this year

Then, a tablespoon at a time, add the sugar and whisk in thoroughly before you add the next spoonful. The egg white will stiffen further, as you add the sugar. At this stage, you are beating to incorporate the sugar, not to add any further air, so it won’t increase in volume.

Egg Whites plus half the required sugar

About half way through - stiffer and peakier, but not more voluminous

Keep adding the sugar, and whipping, a tablespoon at a time. Eventually, the mixture will become really stiff, to the point of being really hard to work,  and will look shiny. This is when you stop adding sugar. Because I use cane sugar, I find I need less than the stated 45 g per egg white. If you are using caster or icing sugar, you may find that you need to use all of it. This is also fine.

Finished Meringue mix

The final product - glossy, thick and much harder to beat

Don’t add more sugar than needed to get to this stiff consistency (or than the 45 g, whichever happens to come first), otherwise your meringues will leach sugar. This does not really affect the taste, but it does give them a rather unattractive look. A bit like a tree that is leaching sap.

Now your meringue is ready to be shaped. You need to line a baking sheet with some greaseproof paper. You can stick it down with oil or by dabbing a bit of the meringue in each corner and the centre of the paper and using this as glue to stick it to the baking sheet. Once the baking sheet is ready, you need to choose what shape and size you are going to have your meringue. You may wish to have it as a pavlova, in which case you need to shape one large disc, with slightly elevated sides, to hold the fruit in. I normally go for individual ones, because these are better for parties or for sharing. Most commonly, I will get two spoons and shape individual quenelles, which can then be stuck together with cream and fruit in a sandwich. However, I wanted to fill these with Chestnut Jam, so I decided that mini versions of the pavlova-style would be better suited to the task.

Some people would use a piping bag for that, but I lack the finesse, and the piping bags, so I made do with shaping them with two spoons. You can try either, I think both are just as good. I made them vaguely circular, like a nest.

Meringue nests

Not sure what I did here, but you get the meringue nest picture

Then it is ready to go in the oven. Bake the meringues for up to 1 ½ hours (but check after 1). If you have made one large pavlova style meringue, you will need longer – check after 1 ½, and leave in the oven up to 2 hours.

A Meringue nest

Meringue nest - a better view

The idea is not really that the meringue cooks, more that it dries out. You need to check that it is no longer soggy to the touch, and that it generates a hollow sound when tapped very gently on the base.It will have darkened a little, even if you use icing sugar. Mine are generally more golden than off-white, because the unrefined sugar I use is a light brown.

When you get the hollow sound, it is done. If it is at all possible, turn off the oven, but leave the meringue in there to continue to dry overnight. This will give the best result, but it will be OK if you leave it to cool outside the confines of the oven.

Once it is done, fill it with fruit, cream, fruit and cream, jam, or serve it with ice cream, mash it up with fruit and cream to make Eton Mess – whatever you like, really.

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Vegan Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

A lot of people (including me before I really thought about it) think that it is difficult to cook for vegans. However, with a little forethought, and some minor adjustments, it isn’t actually that difficult.

If you make it yourself, pastry is one of the easiest recipes to adapt to a vegan diet. When I was younger, and the world hadn’t woken up to the horrors of transfat, my mother used a special kind of margarine that as a solid at room temperature, and as a vivid yellow colour.I have no idea what was in it, and I am probably a bit afraid to find out!  Nowadays you can get a number of olive and vegetable oil-based ones. These are not so yellow either.

The following recipe is enough to give you the base for a large tart, or several smaller ones. I got 24 mince pies using this recipe.

Recipe: Vegan Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

Ingredients

250 g plain flour

125 g block margarine (not the stuff that you spread on your bread – it needs to be more solid)

50 g icing sugar

Zest of a lemon

Method

First, measure the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl, and zest the lemon into a separate container. Take the margarine out of the fridge, and try to work with it as cold as you can. Cut the margarine into cubes and add to the flour. Try to hold as little of it in your hand as possible, to avoid melting.  Rub the flour, sugar and margarine to a fine breadcrumb, by rubbing your hands through the flour and margarine with your thumb over your upturned fingers. When you are done it should look like this:

flour dough as breadcrumbs - before you ad liquid.

The breadcrumb effect

At this point, mix in the lemon zest.

Then get some cold water in a jug – run the tap a little first to make sure that it is as cold as you can. Pour a little at a time into the flour and margarine mix and stir with your hands until it comes together to form a nice dough. At this point cover tightly with either cling film, greaseproof paper or foil. I never use cling film, so I just wrap my dough with whichever of the other two I have to hand. refrigerate for at least half an hour to allow the pastry to relax. If you don’t do this, the pastry will be difficult to work with, and may be too sticky or too short (crumbly).

Roll the pastry out thinly on a well floured surface. To get it even, turn it 90 degrees after each roll, and this should give you an almost circular piece of dough to work with. If you do not need all the dough at once, cut it in half, and put the bit you are not working with back in the fridge,after you have wrapped it up again, until you need it

Use in any recipes that require pastry, but that would be otherwise suitable for vegans. Instead of greasing the tin you are going to bake it in with butter, just use a liberal coating of olive oil.

Wherever you would use an egg/milk wash – i.e. any part of the finished product where the dough will be on display, such as pie crusts; or where you may need to add a liquid filling after a prebake, such as tart bases, then simply brush with water.

The resulting dough is quite short, but a bit denser in texture than all butter dough, and it is paler. My take on it is though, if you have one vegan guest, the other can eat vegetables, whereas your vegan friend cannot eat their food. This dough certainly passes muster for people who are used to eating animal products, so no need to cook special food for one or two.

UPDATE: I have now tested this same pastry with ground almonds, and it makes the pastry richer, and has a lot of flavour. For the amounts given in this recipe, add an additional 75 g ground almonds with the flour, and work with the butter, as above.

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