Rhubarb, almond and ginger pudding

Rhubarb, almond and ginger puddingI love rhubarb at any time, but especially at this time of year when the glorious colour and fresh taste of early forced rhubarb tell you that spring is really on the way. The season for forced rhubarb is short and I plan to take full advantage of it while I can. Usually I just poach it, either on the hob or in the oven, in a little orange juice and some honey or sugar, but this weekend I decided to branch out, and made this rhubarb, almond and ginger pudding – think rhubarb Eve’s Pudding, with a sponge made of ground almonds rather than flour.

The recipe was partly inspired by a dessert I had last week, when I went out for lunch to celebrate a friend’s birthday: a lemon and almond pudding, which was like a soft, flourless almond cake, baked in a shallow dish. I thought an almond sponge would be a great complement to the rhubarb, and the stem ginger stops the sponge being too bland. This pudding tastes indulgent, but is not too rich or heavy – perfect for a bright spring day. It is also gluten-free and can be virtually sugar-free if you use xylitol (or another sugar substitute; replace the stem ginger with ground ginger if you need to avoid sugar entirely). The weight of butter and sugar should be about the same as the weight of the eggs, with 25% more ground almonds, so if your eggs are bigger or smaller just adjust the quantities accordingly.

I made this using half quantities as I was just cooking for two, but this recipe should serve 6 generously.

400g rhubarb
180g sugar or xylitol
zest and juice of 1 orange
120g butter
2 medium eggs
1 tsp baking powder
150g ground almonds
4 pieces of stem ginger finely chopped

Heat the oven to 190ºC/Gas mark 5. Wipe and trim the rhubarb, then cut into 2cm pieces – about the size of a wine cork. Put into an oven-proof dish that is big enough to take the almond sponge on top, and add the orange juice, half the zest and 60g of sugar. Cover with foil and bake in the oven until the rhubarb is just starting to soften. This will probably take about 30 mins, but the time will vary according to how sturdy or delicate your rhubarb is, so do check after 20 mins and judge how much longer it needs – you don’t want it to turn to mush, which happens all too easily. If the rhubarb has produced a lot of juice scoop some of it off to leave just a few tablespoons. Leave to cool a little.

Rhubarb baked for Rhubarb, almond and ginger pudding The rhubarb can be baked at a slightly higher temperature if necessary – I had quite thick stems of Harbinger rhubarb and cooked it for 30 mins alongside the main course, which needed to be at 200ºC/Gas 6. You can also cook the rhubarb in advance if you’re entertaining and don’t want to have too many things to do on the night, though if you do this and store the rhubarb in the fridge, do remember to take it out a couple of hours in advance so that it is at room temperature when you add the sponge.

Rhubarb, almond and ginger puddingWhen you are ready to eat turn the oven down to 170ºC/Gas 3 and make the sponge. Cream the butter and remaining 120g of sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, with a spoonful of ground almonds, and beat them in. When they are incorporated add the remaining orange zest, the stem ginger, baking powder and the rest of the ground almonds, mixing well. You can loosen the mixture with a tablespoon of the syrup from the ginger jar if it seems too stiff. Spoon the sponge evenly over the top of the rhubarb and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until it golden brown and slightly risen. Allow to sit for 5 minutes and then serve with pouring cream.

If you’re planning to cook roast lamb for Easter Sunday, this would work perfectly for dessert – but why wait that long!


Chocolate pudding with pears poached in wine

Chocolate pudding with pears in red wineThe first time I read this recipe, from La Bretagne Gourmande by Nathalie Beauvais, I was not at all sure about it. A chocolate pudding that included squash? Pears in red wine with chocolate pudding? However, I was sufficiently intrigued to make it, and very good it was too – lighter than many chocolate puddings and the pears worked really well with it. And, of course, you can have fun getting people to guess what it’s made of!

You can also replace the squash with chestnuts to make a chocolate chestnut pudding, which is apparently denser, but I suspect it would be just as delicious, if not more so. Serves at least 6 (depending on whether you want to serve half or a whole pear each – there is a generous quantity of pudding).

500g patidoux squash (I used butternut)
200g dark chocolate
100g butter
2 sheets gelatine

6 pears
750ml red wine
150g sugar
a piece of orange zest
1 vanilla pod
½ tsp cinnamon
6 peppercorns
2 cloves
50ml crème de cassis

The pudding needs to be made at least 4 hours ahead. Peel the squash and cut it into large pieces – if you’re using a whole small squash you can just quarter it – and remove the seeds. Cook it in a steamer for 20-30 minutes until it is completely tender.

Chocolate puddingSoak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water in a shallow dish. Break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water or in the microwave. Beat the cooked squash with the sugar until smooth. Mix this purée into the melted chocolate  and beat well. Drain the gelatine and add it, mixing well again. Turn the pudding into a bowl and put in the fridge to set.

Put the wine, sugar, orange rind and spices into a large shallow pan with a lid. The original recipe suggests a Beaujolais type, but in my household it would be whatever wine is to hand, and I used less than the litre specified. Cover, bring to the boil and leave to simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Peel the pears, cut them in half and remove the core – I find it easiest to do this by scooping the core out with a teaspoon. Slide them into the wine, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes until they are tender to the point of a knife. Add the crème de cassis. Transfer the pears to a dish, strain the liquid to remove the spices and pour the wine over the pears, adding the vanilla pod back into the bowl. Allow to cool and then put in the fridge.

To serve, use a soup spoon to put a large scoop of chocolate fondant on a dessert plate, and add a pear, elegantly sliced, alongside with a little of the wine. Initially, I assumed that it would need some crème fraîche, but it is actually fine just as it is. An unusual dessert that is a bit special, but not at all difficult, and not too wicked, either.

Orange blossom macarons

Orange blossom macaronsBe warned, these macarons are addictive and far too easy to make! I have looked at recipes for neat, piped, filled macarons before and decided that they were too much trouble, even though they look delicious. So, I was curious about this more straightforward recipe by Thomasina Miers, which I clipped from The Guardian magazine last year and finally got round to making last weekend. Why did I wait so long? The macarons were so good that I immediately made another batch. They are a great way of using up egg whites, which you will have in abundance if you make ice cream to eat with them (see below).

The macarons are crunchy on the outside and soft inside, perfumed with orange rind and orange blossom water. I served them first with orange salad and sherry ice cream (based on this excellent brandy ice cream, using a medium sweet sherry instead of the marsala). They are equally delicious with a cup of coffee, with poached rhubarb, as a sweet canapé at a drinks party…you get the picture.

a little oil to grease the trays
100g egg whites (from 2 large or 3 small eggs)
250g unrefined icing sugar
200g ground almonds
1½ tbsp orange blossom water
zest of ½ orange

Mixture for Orange blossom macaronsHeat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6. I cooked one batch in the fan oven at 180ºC, but I think you get a bit more crunch and colour if you bake them at 200ºC without the fan (if your oven gives you the option). Line two or three large baking trays with greaseproof paper and oil them lightly, or use silicone liners if you have them. Measure half of the egg whites into a large bowl and mix in the icing sugar, almonds, orange blossom water, orange zest and a pinch of salt, until you have a thick paste. I found a silicone spatula the best implement for this. At first, it looks as if there isn’t enough egg white, but persevere and it will come right.

Put the remainder of the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk to stiff peaks, then fold them a little at a time into the paste using a spatula or metal spoon, trying not to knock out all the air you’ve just beaten into them.

Orange Blossom Macarons ready for the ovenUsing two teaspoons – one to scoop up the mixture and the other to push it onto the tray – put heaped teaspoons of the mixture onto the prepared trays, spacing them well apart, as they spread. I find I could only get 8 macarons onto one of my baking trays – any more and they joined together (not fatal, but you don’t get such a regular shape).

Bake for 15-17 minutes, swapping the trays around after 10 minutes so that they brown evenly. They should be golden and feel solid to the touch. Take out of the oven, gently pull them off the paper and leave them to cool, either on the tray or on a rack (if, like me, you need to re-use one of the trays). Miers says that the recipe makes 20, but I must have smaller teaspoons as I found I got 24 macarons.

Lemon Mascarpone Mousse

Lemon Mascarpone MousseThis light lemony mousse started with a recipe for Mousse Légère au Citron in La Bretagne Gourmande by Nathalie Beauvais, a cookbook I bought when we were staying at our friends’ house in Brittany. The method used is very similar to that for Soufflé Milanese in Georgina Horley’s excellent Good Food on a Budget , which I have had since Good Food on a Budgetabout 1978. This no longer seems to be in print, although you can find copies on AbeBooks. It is arranged seasonally and doesn’t regard being on a budget as any excuse for lack of culinary ambition. It cites her mother, Muriel Downes, Rosemary Hume (the cook behind Constance Spry) and Boulestin as her culinary influences. You can see from the state of the page how often I have used this particular recipe!

Whereas Horley’s recipe uses double cream, the Breton one makes it a bit lighter by using fromage blanc. I wanted a light dessert to follow an Italian Venison Stew, and as mascarpone has a similar fat content to fromage blanc I thought it might work equally well, and be in line with the Italian theme. I like recipes which call for whisking egg whites, as they give me an excuse to use my much-loved copper bowl; purchased in my early cooking days, it has been a pleasure to use for over 30 years.

Remember that if you are cooking for vegetarians you will need to replace the gelatine with Agar Agar (and follow the instructions about method and quantity on the packet – I haven’t tried this yet). My quantities differ slightly from both recipes (more egg-to-lemon than Horley, less than Beauvais) and filled four medium ramekins; naturally you can multiply the recipe up if you’re cooking for more or hungrier people, though you would probably still only need one extra egg white for every four whole eggs. Serves 3-4

1 large unwaxed lemon
2 eggs and 1 extra egg white
75g sugar (or xylitol)
1½ leaves of gelatine
120g mascarpone
a pinch of salt

Finely grate the zest and juice the lemon and put both in a small bowl. Put the gelatine into a shallow bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak. Separate the whole eggs, and put all 3 whites into a copper bowl or into the mixer. Put the yolks into a medium heatproof bowl which will sit on one of your pans. Into that pan, put a little water (say, 2 centimetres) and heat it to simmering point.

Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk them together, gradually adding the lemon zest and juice. Sit the bowl on top of the pan, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water and keeping the water just at a simmer – ie. a few bubbles rising to the surface. Keep whisking the eggs, sugar and lemon rind and juice until the mixture is thick, mousse-like and you can write your initial on it. This takes about 12-15 minutes, so you either need a strong arm or hand-held electric beaters. I think you get better volume with a balloon whisk –  but that may be because I don’t have any option as I don’t have hand-held beaters!

Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and beat it into the mixture. Take the bowl off the pan and beat for another 5 minutes until the mixture is starting to cool. You can speed this up a bit by sitting the bowl in a larger bowl or pan with some cold water in it. Don’t be tempted to skip this step – I have in the past, and found that the mousse separated in the fridge and all that hard beating had been in vain.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks with a pinch of salt. Beat the mascarpone in a bowl to soften it, then whisk it with a few tbsps of the lemon mixture to slacken it further before folding in the rest of the lemon mousse with a spatula. Finally, fold in the beaten egg whites. Divide the mousse between four ramekins or small bowls, and put in the fridge to set for at least three hours. I tend to cover the dishes with cling film but it’s probably not essential.

Nathalie Beauvais suggests cutting a few fine strips of candied lemon peel to decorate the mousse, and serves it with ‘son amandine’ – a nice, plain almond cake. In terms of texture, I think a crisp biscuit or shortbread might be a better accompaniment. A Muscat de Rivesaltes is recommended to drink with it. Georgina Horley’s recipe has a more dressy presentation: the mousse is turned into a small (1 pint) soufflé dish with a paper collar, which is removed when set, and the exposed edge of the mousse decorated with chopped toasted almonds, and the top adorned with whorls of whipped cream. Not that I ever did that, I might add.

I won’t pretend that this recipe is light on washing up – I used four bowls, a pan, two whisks and a spatula – and beating the mixture takes time, but you are rewarded with a feather-light dessert that is a bit special and not too wicked, with the taste of brighter days ahead.

Tarte au citron

Tarte au Citron, Lemon Tart
Weekend dinner menu

Celeri Remoulade
Shin of beef stew, parsnip mash & spring greens
Cheese: Pont l’Eveque & Neufchâtel
Tarte au Citron

This was the menu for a relaxed pre-Christmas dinner with friends. I had brought back some cheese from a trip to Le Havre (of which more later), and Irene made a stew, so a sharp, crunchy starter and something light but a bit luxurious to finish seemed in order, hence this lemon tart.

I have been using this lemon tart recipe for over 30 years (as you will see from the Imperial measurements!). I was taught it by a friend who was a chef, and it has always received compliments. I now tend to use pastry made with an egg yolk, based on Delia’s sweet pastry recipe, but for many years I used a plain shortcrust, and actually I think it was just as good. To my mind the pastry shouldn’t be too rich or sweet – it’s there as a foil to the sharp, creamy filling.

Rowley Leigh had a very similar recipe in his FT column a couple of years ago – his filling is made in the same way, though with an additional egg yolk, and he uses a sweet pastry made with 2/3 butter to flour (180g butter/270g flour/75g caster sugar/3 egg yolks/2 tbsps cold water for the pastry and doubled quantities of the filling for a 3cm deep 24cm wide tart tin – though these quantities sound generous to me). Serves 8.

160g/6 oz flour
80g/3oz unsalted butter
1 egg yolk (keep the egg white)
1 tbsp cold water
Pinch salt

2 lemons
4 large eggs
170g/6oz sugar
200ml/7oz double cream
Icing sugar to decorate (optional)

To make the pastry put all the ingredients into the food processor and process on the lowest speed until it starts to clump together. Turn out and knead briefly into a ball, then wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for at least 30 mins to chill.

Roll out the pastry and line a lightly-greased tart tin with a removable base (mine is 25cm diameter and 2.5cm deep). Lightly whip the egg white until it is frothy, then brush it over the inside of the pastry case. Bake the pastry case blind at 200ºC/Gas 6 for about 15 mins until the surface is firm and light gold. Turn the oven down to 150ºC/Gas 2.

Wash the lemons, grate their zest and squeeze the juice. Break the eggs into a mixing bowl, add the sugar and beat lightly with a wire whisk until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Pour in the cream and mix lightly. Stir in the lemon juice and zest and pour into the pastry case.

Bake for 40 mins until just set in the centre, but not coloured. (Rowley Leigh cooks the filling for 1 hour and 10 mins at 110ºC – I haven’t tried this yet). Dust the surface with icing sugar if you want to make it look pretty. Serve chilled with some raspberries and a spoonful of crème fraîche alongside if you’re feeling indulgent.

Belvoir Lemon Pudding

Belvoir Lemon Pudding

This is the Constance Spry recipe that I referred to in my previous post about Chicken in calvados and cream. It is not difficult to make, though the meringue sauce needs to be made at the last minute. If you put the pudding on to steam before you sit down to eat, you can do the topping with just a short break after the main course, or while cheese is being served. The end result is worth the trouble: a light steamed pudding tasting intensely of lemon curd which contrasts with the sweet/sharp apple meringue.
Serves 6.

4 oz (120g) butter
4 oz (120g) caster sugar
2 yolks of egg
4oz (120g) fresh white breadcrumbs
grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
1/2 tsp baking-powder

2 whites of egg
3 oz (90g) caster sugar
1 large dessert apple

Butter a pudding basin or Charlotte mould, and line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter, add the sugar and beat thoroughly. Then add the yolks, crumbs, and rind and juice of the lemons. Lastly add the baking-powder. Turn into the prepared basin and cover securely with foil. Steam for 40 minutes.

Belvoir Lemon Pudding

Ten minutes before it is ready prepare the sauce. Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C Fan. Finely dice the apple (you could do this ahead). Whip the whites until to a stiff froth, add the sugar, whip for a minute or two, and fold in the diced apple. Spread this thickly in a circle on an ovenproof serving dish (choose a dish with a good rim). Dust with caster sugar and set in the oven until it is lightly browned (Connie Spry doesn’t give a timing, but mine took 12 minutes).

Turn out the steamed pudding onto the meringue. It is hard to do this neatly – as you can see in the photo above – but no one seems to care.

Apricot, orange and almond cake

imageThis recipe is in memory of my dear friend Helena, who died on 2 November 2015. It is slightly adapted from Nigella’s Apricot Almond cake, which was broadcast on that date, and I made it for her family a couple of days later. Helena was the best cook I have ever known, so cooking seems the best way to remember her.

Nigella simmers the apricots in water, but remembering Lindsay Bareham’s delicious apricots with orange, I simmered mine in orange juice and replaced some of the sugar with honey.

These quantities are for a 15cm tin – just double them for a 20cm tin.

75g dried apricots
125ml fresh orange juice (juice of 1.5 medium oranges)
30g honey
seeds from 2 cardamon pods, slightly crushed
100g ground almonds
25g fine polenta
1 tsp baking powder
35g caster sugar or Total Sweet
3 large eggs
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp rosewater
spray or butter for greasing tin

1 tsp apricot jam mixed with 1/2 tsp lemon juice to glaze
1 heaped tsp of chopped pistachios to decorate

Put the dried apricots in a small pan with the orange juice, honey and cardamon seeds (you can just crack the pods and put them in, then fish the husks out when the mixture has cooled). Bring to the boil and let it bubble for 10 minutes, keeping an eye on it. Take off the heat and leave on a cold surface to cool.

Grease the tin and line the base with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 160ºC Fan/180ºC/Gas 4.

Remove 2 or 3 of the apricots, tear in half and put aside. Put all the dry ingredients, the apricots and the eggs into the food processor. Blitz thoroughly until smooth. Scrape down the sides if necessary, add the lemon juice and rosewater and mix again briefly.

Use a spatula to scrape all the mixture into the tin. Place the apricot halves round the edge of the tin. Bake for 35 mins (40 mins for larger cake) – I baked mine with the fan for 25 mins, then switched the oven to regular at 180ºC for the last 10 minutes to brown it. When the top feels firm and a skewer comes out with only a few crumbs on it it is ready.

Put it in its tin on a wire rack and brush the glaze over the top. Scatter with pistachios (I had run out, hence their absence in the photo) and leave to cool in the tin, before unmoulding. Nice with a spoonful of greek yoghurt or crème fraîche alongside it. A glass of orange muscat dessert wine would probably be good too!