Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brandy Cream Tart with Cranberry & Quince Jam

Baking a tart is pure therapy. Nothing is more tempting than a buttery crust that tries to resist then succumbs and crumbles under your fork. The filling in that constant precarious state of limbo between liquid and wobble.  The remainder down your top despite being as careful as you can be lifting it from plate to mouth, there is always that rebel smear or crumb making its departure down your front and hopefully  is something you can rescue later.
There is nothing complicated about this tart, it is just the process takes a little longer. Nothing showy or stressful just a delightful holiday plodding at the stove.
I’ve suggested a pre-bought pastry in the interests of time here but please do make your own if you are willing. And the smell of it cooking brings the sort of reward we only dream about.
Sticky Brandy cream tart with spiced cranberry and quince jam
Serves 8 – 10

1 x 375g packet sweet shortcrust pastry (use Careme’s)
1 ¼ cups cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
½ cup caster sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons brandy
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
2 cups good quality cranberry jam
½ cup quince paste
3 tsp mixed spice
Grease and line a 25cm pie tin or rectangular tart tin with a loose bottom. Roll out the pastry then gently line the base of the pie tin and trim any overhang. Pop the lined shell in the fridge and let rest for 15 minutes.
Blind bake the base for 10 minutes or until slightly golden. Allow to cool.
While the tart shell is blind baking add the cream cheese, crème fraiche and sugar to a bowl and whisk until creamy.  Add the eggs, yolks, brandy, vanilla and spice and process until smooth.
Melt the jam and quince paste in a small heavy saucepan with 1 tbsp water over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. Spread half the jam over the base of the cooled pastry shell.  Set aside until the jam layer sets then gently pour over cream cheese mixture.
Cover with foil and bake until the filling is set but still slightly trembly in the middle. About 40 minutes. Be careful at this stage as it will continue to set as it cools. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Reheat the remaining jam and stir until smooth. Pour the remainder of the jam over the top of the cheese filling and spread evenly. Chill the tart in the fridge until cold. Just before serving, remove the tart from the pan. When slicing it works best to use a hot wet knife.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

An alternative to ham...Sticky tea, plum and mustard beef

A nice slab of eye fillet makes a great alternative for the Christmas spread. And it’s usually devoured in minutes meaning you don’t have to face the days and days of omelettes, sandwiches, toasted sandwiches, pastas, bubble n squeak and rotation of ham leftover dishes that hang about until new years when the ham is finally beaten. Even better it requites a lot less time in the oven – perfect for those of us far more concerned with the location of the champagne than the cooking come Christmas day. For this beef marinade I’ve incorporated Lapsang Souchong tea – ground to a powder and rubbed all over the beef. It imparts a delicate smokiness without the hassle of smoking paraphernalia and works really well with the mustard and jam flavours.

The cooking is absolutely straightforward, but I will throw in a few words of caution
-       For a tender roast, the piece of beef eye fillet must be properly aged. Be careful the meat isn't too fresh, otherwise its likely to be tough.
-       Get involved. Really massage in the marinade for best results.
-       A good piece of meat should be rare, too cooked and the hedonist pleasure is lost. And really, after that, what is the point.
-       Make sure the meat is at room temperature when it goes in the oven
-       Make sure your oven is hot and has reached the right temperature before it goes in. Some prefer to blister it at the highs of 220+ then turn the heat down. Here I prefer a more sedate approach.
-       After cooking, allow your beef to rest. At least 20 minutes
-       Use a warm plate to serve.

Serves 6

1.25kg beef eye fillet 
3 heaped tsp lapsang Souchong tea ground to powder
6 tbsp good quality plum jam
2 tbsp  Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic crushed
Aioli and coriander leaves to serve

Place the tea, jam, mustard and garlic in a bowl and stir to combine and until the jam has softened and you have a thick sauce consistency. 
Smear the piece of beef in the marinade, working it into the meat. Season with salt and pepper then cover and refrigerate for two hours for the flavours to develop.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove beef from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the piece of beef on top and cook for 17 – 20 minutes for rare. This can vary with the oven and also the thickness of your piece of meat, check on it regularly if you need to. Remove, cover with foil and allow to rest before slicing.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Little Christmas Inspiration

A little while ago I put together some party food recipes for the fantastic James Halliday Magazine and thought you might like to see them for any last minute Christmas inspiration. The wine suggestions are stellar - tempting to take all the guess work out of Xmas that's for  sure.
If you haven't seen this magazine on the shelves - snaffle it up. I've got a subscription on my wishlist for Christmas - its a great base for learning about wine and beer. And of course food and travel. A wee word of warning - the smoked cheddar and chorizo croquettes are the kind of thing you overeat, can't stop, burn the roof of your mouth and keep going sort of bites. You've been warned.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Candy Cane Peppermint Truffles

Back in the golden years of my youth, my parents and grandparents would host these dinner parties and without fail, the “after dinner” mints would emerge, usually with plunger coffee if things needed to wrap up or nips of scotch and/or port if the night was getting started.  It was all so sophisticated and those after dinner mints of days gone by were a surefire signal of guests ie the ultimate people watching for 8 year olds and dinner, generally a much improved one, with the almost guaranteed leftovers for picking through the next day.

I remember hanging about the kitchen for days, trying to snaffle the after dinner mints then hiding under my bed, precariously lifting them out of their little envelopes and melting them all over my hands as I tried to lick the chocolate off first.  These candy cane chocolate truffles are my Christmas equivalent of the after dinner mint – a version that can be eaten out in the open rather than under the bedded confines of your Sealy junior single. Slightly naff candy canes are crunched up in delicious dark chocolate and dusted in cocoa. They are “fancy” enough to mark the occasion and definitely tasty enough to sustain the child within. The best bit, the candy cane chunks soften in the ganache, tasting like some kind of lustrous minty nougat. Should someone wonder if you had, in fact, been toiling away in the kitchen making mint nougat before rolling it into ganache in preparation for their arrival, well your secret is safe with me. I just can’t promise any leftovers.

Makes 20 – 25 (depending on how much mixture you eat)

100g candy canes
225g dark chocolate, chopped
150ml pouring cream
40g butter
Good quality dutch cocoa powder for dusting

Break the candy cane into pieces and transfer to a food processor. Blitz the candy canes – you want them to be tiny little chunks rather than ground to a powder style consistency. Set aside

Add the chocolate, cream and butter to a heat-proof bowl and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir constantly until the chocolate has melted and the ingredients have combined. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before adding the candy cane chunks. Stir to combine then place covered in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool. The mixture should be cool to touch but still slightly malleable.
Scoop out tablespoons (or smaller if you’d prefer) of mixture and roll into balls. Dust the balls in the cocoa powder and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Repeat until all the mixture is used. Refrigerate overnight or until firm before serving.