Tuesday, 21 July 2009

On waffles, peaches and the joys of not baking

Every kitchen should have a waffle iron.

Seriously. Let me explain: I've been away on cheesemaking fieldwork for my anthropology dissertation and it's hot here in the Canaries. Yes, they make cheese in the Canaries, and one of them happens to have won the "world's best cheese" award last year at the world cheese awards in Dublin. Hence my vital research on the matter. Plus I like cheese, I like the Canaries, and I like swimming amongst the glistening fish in the crystal clear ocean every day.

But I digress. As it is hot, baking is simply out of the question.

Problem is if you're an oven-refusenik on summer days there aren't many non-bake alternatives to the quotidien muesli. Pancakes are delectable but a bit of a faff when you're in Sundayslug mode and we didn't have any dried cholla bread for making French toast. Thus I mandated to Mama Johansen that the waffle-iron come out for Sunday brunch. She happily demured, went off to read the paper and left me to my waffling.

Out came the extention cord and I placed said waffle iron on the terrace for an al fresco brunch - reducing the distance between 'cooking' and eating. Whilst assembling a variety of jams and condiments for embellishing the waffles, a gloopy batter was conjured out of a few holy ingredients. Good butter, as you might expect, is essential, but otherwise there's no art to making waffles. I set the table, Mama J took care of her coffee and within minutes we were scoffing crisp, glorious waffles and sipping hot coffee, or in my case, M&S Extra Strong Tea (don't ask me why, but I have a real soft spot for Marks & Sparks tea...)

In sum, who needs to bake on sultry summer days when the waffle iron provides such simple bruncheon joy?

To mitigate the waffles - not that they require mitigation per se - we snaffled some Spanish donut peaches:

And here's the humble waffle recipe, a hybrid of Mama J's and the winner of last year's waffle competition in Norway. Norwegians, I might add, have a thing about waffles. Expect to be proffered them wherever you go. Or at least this was the case when I lived there many moons ago. You'll probably be given some god-awful cupcakes or ersatz cookies now.

Ingredients: makes enough for 3-4 people
  • 230g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 70g caster sugar
  • 70g butter, melted
  • 70ml water
  • 150g sour cream (greek yogurt will do)
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-2 generous teaspoons vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Sift dry ingredients into large bowl, make a well in middle and add all the liquid ingredients. Stir together until a sticky batter is formed. If you lift the spoon it should take a couple of seconds for the mixture to fall down. Not a minute, nor immediately - a couple of seconds.

Technically you set aside the batter for 1/2 hour to allow the starch cells in the flour to swell. Needless to say, we were too impatient and just cooked the waffles with indecent haste. As Mama J will attest, the waffles were perfect - light, fluffy and crisp on the outside.

Here is a snap from a previous waffle-making session to show you the iron and batter.We gobbled everything on Sunday before photos could be taken. The three hearts above were barely corralled for a photo before we hoovered them...

As for what to serve with waffles, you don't need me to tell you that adding butter and a pinch of cinnamon is gilding the lily, but gild the lily we did. Jams of most descriptions make excellent accompaniments, as do syrups, peanut butter, norwegian gjetost, nutella, fruit, dollops of sour cream, marmite...haha, got you there ;)

That's all for now folks, do let me know if you make waffles or indeed if you have a favourite waffle topping.

Time for a dip in the ocean methinks.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

For the sweet-toothed buccaneer...

It's July 4th, and I don't know about you but I LOVE Independence Day. Normally sceptical about the hullabaloo and fanfare of nation states celebrating their independence, or in England's case some dude named George, I suspend all critical faculties and embrace the swashbuckling, tea-dumping, free-wheeling spirit of America's most eagerly anticipated holiday. All that red, white and blue decoration, the earnestness with which Americans celebrate their independence and freedom, the singing, the food, the flags!

If you love the 'West Wing', 'Seinfeld' or 'M*A*S*H' as much as I do, you are mandated to love July 4th, there is just no point denying it. You can't consume the cultural exports of America, then turn around and sneer at its so-called lack of cultural sophistication, or complain about loud Americans who point at Big Ben and ask "Is that Oxford or Cambridge?" I love America because of its idiosyncracies, not in spite of them, and will disown friends who possess anti-American sentiments as quickly as I dispatch people who don't eat fish or who claim to be vegetablists - as Jeremy Clarkson so aptly calls them

If you get excited by Americana in all its kitsch glory - as by now you will have gathered I most certainly do - then you make cakes like the one below. Yes, that is blue icing, and with all it's E-numbered, diabetes-inducing filthiness it tasted mighty good. This cake, for the record, was made last November for election day and I am sure our commander-in-chief would appreciate its total brilliance. I simply revisit it today to remind myself what a queen of schmaltz I am :D

Anyway you get my point. I dig the States

July 4th for me is replete with memories of summers spent in New England. It was the perfect escape from the dourness of Norway, not to mention my looney relatives - Wodehouse was right in stating "aunts aren't gentlemen" and my Norwegian ones certainly fit that description to a T. My American grandfather, Jack, lived on the coast of New Hampshire and so the parents and I absconded to a town called Rye Beach every summer for most of the '90s. It was, for want of a better word, sweet. Swimming in the freezing Atlantic; eating burgers, hot dogs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chipwiches; learning to love lobster; daily swim team practices with the beach club swim team my parents insisted I join (I still thank them for doing so, or I would've been the size of a baby hippo); comedy tennis lessons (racquets and I will never be bosom buddies); flashlight tag during sultry evenings; summer camps at MIT; birthday parties and all the usual carefree japes and frolics of teenage summers...I couldn't have asked for better holidays and never got sick of returning to the same place every July

Be that as it may, my knowledge of the rest of the United States is patchy at best. D.C., New Orleans and Chicago have thus far eluded me, and although a wine tour of California beckons, I'd love to travel around the deep south and midwest - often neglected in travel plans that always focus on seductive New York or foodie San Fran

So in a fit of nostalgia, I told "she who must be obeyed", otherwise known as Mama Johansen, that we would make burgers and key lime pie to honour the Great American Holiday. We feasted on quarterpounders with gherkins, onions and cheese last night to kick off the star-spangled celebrations, and subsequently felt rather queasy. That's a lot of meat for someone who recently went on a two-month seafood binge as a symbolic denouncement of useless men (it was a bad break-up...) and recently severe iron-deficiency crept up on me, so the occasion for jumping back on the meat wagon once more couldn't be more apposite. The gustatory meat wagon that is. Shame that I went at it with quite that much gusto

But I digress. Key Lime Pie, to the uninitiated, is an All-American dessert. It's tangy and fresh and sweet all at once, and I have a penchant for mouth-puckeringly sour things so it's top of my list for summertime sweet treats. Except it's been so hot and humid the past week that the idea of baking made me feel even more faint than the prospect of eating another quarterpounder with cheese. So on Thursday I tweeted a query to see if anyone had a no-bake key lime pie recipe. Responses came courtesy of Oliver Thring author of the excellent blog Thring for your Supper, and the folks at Market Kitchen. Oliver suggested adding coconut to the base, which I did, and making a syrup to lace the pie with, which I intended to do and forgot. Next time Oliver, I shall try the lime syrup idea ;) Market Kitchen helpfully directed me to a Momma Cheri recipe which looked quite similar to the one I already had (and a tasty recipe that is too) but it required 10 minutes' baking in the oven

This obsession with a no-bake key lime pie may seem absurd to you, but I was adamant it could be done.

So after the helpful tweets from Oliver and Market Kitchen, a quick scour of the web comparing four recipes, and a collating of ingredients and proportions I came up with the recipe you see below. The secret is mascarpone. Do not use double cream, it just won't have the right consistency - mascarpone is silky and smooth, thus adding the perfect amount of creaminess to the pie filling without making it insipid (I have a thing about double cream, preferring the tarter creme fraiche) and also means eggs are redundant. In fact Mama Johansen and I concurred that eggs, as Heston would say, block flavour-release. In other words, adding eggs to the filling renders the lime flavour less noticeable, and that is problematic when it comes to key lime pie.

You want custard with a citrus twist, go eat tarte au citron. This is tart, refreshing and clean-tasting. Save the eggs for Sunday brunch.

And there you have it: a sublime key lime pie. Happy Independence Day! And yes that is a pool thermometer shaped like a frog in the photo below. We Johansens like our kitsch....

No-bake Key Lime Pie base:
  • 200g ginger nut biscuits (I used some Dutch 'spekulaas' or spice biscuits)
  • 125g melted butter
  • 30g desiccated coconut
Filling (easy as pie):
  • 1 can (370ml) condensed milk
  • 200g mascarpone cheese
  • zest of 4 limes (see photo above, it's a lot. Use a microplane)
  • Juice of 5 limes (up to 6 if the limes aren't v.juicy)

Make the pie base first: place the biscuits in a large plastic bag and crush until they resemble breadcrumbs. If you have a magimix you can of course blitz them in the mixer, but bashing them is quite cathartic. Add the coconut and melted butter, mix thoroughly and then press down quite firmly into a pie tin or cake tin. I only had a big cake tin (23cm diameter) and could have pressed a bit more firmly to get the pie base up on the sides, but it's not the end of the world. If you have ramekins you could make individual pies for a dinner party. Place the pie base in the freezer to chill it quickly

Next, prepare the lime filling: place the mascarpone in a medium-large bowl, grate in the lime zest and whisk this for a minute before adding the condensed milk and lime juice. As soon as you add the lime juice the mixture will thicken, which has to do with the acidity of limes coiling up the proteins in condensed milk, thus thickening it (and the mascarpone I imagine) which is a nifty trick when leaving eggs out of a recipe like this

Finally, taste the mixture. This is not difficult, it should be tangy but sweet enough that the lime juice isn't sucking in your cheeks and making you wince. Add a bit more juice if it's too sweet, a but more condensed milk if too sour

Then pour the filling mixture on top of your chilled pie base, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for a few hours to set, or even better, overnight. When you're ready to serve the pie, run the blunt end of a knife along the perimeter of your cake (this isn't strictly necessary when using a pie tin) and release the tin. Slice with a sharp knife and serve with some lime zest as garnish, or a sprig of mint. Most recipes call for a dollop of double cream or creme fraiche to go along with key lime pie but IMHO that's redundant. The pie's creamy enough as it is, at a stretch you could do creme fraiche but double cream does nothing for the beauty of this glorious, tangy pie

Keeps a few days in the fridge, if you don't scoff the whole thing in one sitting. Believe me, it's tempting. Thankfully the summer battle with one's bikini is a good prophylactic to such indulgence