Wednesday, September 28, 2011

French crepes

When my husband and I were in France in 2007, we found a hole in the wall vendor selling crepes in Montparnasse. I think she was there as part of the Night of Music Festival, where people come out on the streets all over Paris to listen to music, sing, dance, and eat a lot of food. This particular creperie was part of a pub. A girl with Suzi Quatro hair was stationed inside a little booth with a big black flat griddle, a jug of crepe batter, a wooden trowel and a bunch of fillings. We stepped up to the window and ordered: “un crepe avec jambon, fromage et champignons”. And she set to work. When the job was done, the girl used a giant spatula to fold the crepe into quarters, slip it into a little paper cone and hand it over. And let me tell you, that crepe was goooooood!

I have finally perfected my own crepe recipe. Lately I’ve become a little obsessed with crepes. When you try this recipe, you’ll understand why.

1 cup plain flour
1 large egg
375ml full cream milk.

1. Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack the egg into the well, then pour the milk into the well.
2. Use a balloon whisk to gradually combine all the ingredients, then keep whisking until the batter resembles the thickness of pouring cream. Cover the bowl with glad wrap and leave the batter to stand for one hour.
3. Heat a 22cm fry pan on the top of a stove. Use a quarter cup measure to scoop the perfect portion of batter out of the bowl and pour it into the pan. Tilt the pan in a circle motion to spread the batter thinly. Cook for one minute, then flip over and cook for a further 30 seconds on the other side. Repeat until all the batter is cooked. You should get about 12 crepes. And because you rested the batter, the first one should be as good as the last.

Extra notes: there was a comment by an anonymous reader that this recipe doesn't work. We've tested this over and over to be sure it does. And we've eaten the results quite happily every time! It's worth saying the French put two eggs in their crepes. I find two eggs can sometimes make the batter a bit like an omelette. However if you were going to use the crepes for Chinese-style mango pancakes, this would be a good effect! When turning the crepes, I have to say this does take practice. I've been working on my technique since I was about 12 years old. Do be patient with yourself if flipping crepes is something new for you. To be honest, I've been picking mine up by the edge with my fingers and flipping them. This is made possible by the fact that I'm using a brand new teflon pan. Nothing sticks to it! If it were an old pan matters would be different. One more thing about pans - as a kid I made crepes in the Sunbeam skillet. Ours was well seasoned and did not take much butter to encourage the crepe not to stick. They still make these skillets. I find them really nice to cook with!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Lemon shortbread

I have been working with a recipe over the past weeks for the new book I'm writing. While its origin is Mexican, the biscuit it produces is so familiar to so many people from other cultures, I feel like I've stumbled on a universal biscuit base that could be converted to suit many purposes. Flush with a full stock of lemons, thanks to Janet at work, today I thought I would turn my recipe into Lemon Shortbread - a very easy variation on the original recipe and certainly, a very delicious one. I hope you agree!

250g salt reduced butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp water
1 tblsp lemon zest
1/2 cup flaked almonds
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 cups plain flour

1. Combine the butter, sugar, lemon juice, water and lemon zest in the bowl of your Kitchenaid (I'm not going to pretend anybody owns any other mixer, okay?). Beat on sixth gear until the butter is pale and creamy.
2. Add the almonds and plain and mix on first gear until the ingredients are just combined.
3. Gather the dough together with your hands and knead it just a little to ensure all the dry ingredients are combined.
4. Place it on a pastry mat or a piece of baking paper and gently roll the entire amount of dough into a log. Keep rolling until the log is about 30cm long and about 6cm in diameter. Wrap it tightly in cling film and roll just a little more to refine the shape of your log. Tap each end on the bench to flatten it so you have a perfect cylindar. Store the shortbread log in the fridge for an hour.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
6. Take the shortbread log out of the fridge and remove the plastic. Using a very sharp knife, cut 1cm thick slices from the log. You are aiming to get at least 24 slices from the log, so be careful how thick you cut each slice.
7. Arrange the shortbread rounds on the baking trays - you should get 12 per tray but make sure you get them enough space in between because they do spread a little. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the shortbread is golden brown. Allow to cool on the tray for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
8. You can dust these shortbreads with icing sugar if you like. I think they are nice plain. They will keep for at least four days, if you don't eat them all first!

Lemon curd

I have talked before about my desire to have an eternally fruiting lemon tree in my backyard. I do have a lemon tree, which I was given as a wedding present (well, my husband was given it too), but it spends most of the year ripening just one or two lemons. But Janet, at work - her lemon tree is a different story! She brought in two massive bags this week filled with gorgeous, ripe, almost orange lemons, and invited everyone to take as many as they wanted. I was lucky enough to score eight lemons. And I told everyone who took lemons too that if they wanted, they could give me their lemons and a jar and I would turn them into lemon curd.

It's been some years since I made lemon curd, so today I thought I better turn the lemons I took into lemon curd so I can be sure I can fulfil my promise!

140g butter
1 cup caster sugar
3 large eggs
200ml lemon juice
1 tblsp lemon zest

1. Melt the butter in the top of a double boiler. You can use one small saucepan sitting in a larger one half filled with water if you don't have one.
2. Add the sugar to the melted butter and stir until the sugar has dissolved. This takes some time - about 15 minutes, and even then the sugar might not fully dissolve. Just do your best here, but if it doesn't fully dissolve, don't worry.
3. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat with a fork. Pour them into the butter mix through a sieve. You need to work quickly here because once the eggs touch the hot butter they will begin to cook. Stir the eggs into the butter mix and ensure they are fully combined.
4. Add the lemon juice and lemon zest to the butter mix and stir to thoroughly combine.
5. Continue cooking over a low heat for 15 minutes until the mixture thickens. You will be tempted to stop at around the five minute mark - trust me, keeping going the full 15 minutes will make a huge difference to the quality of your lemon curd.
6. Pour into a glass jar and allow to cool. Serve on buttered scones, in tarts, or as a sauce with yummy puddings. Or, just eat it with a spoon straight from the jar!

Note: if you find you have flecks of cooked egg in your curd don't panic! When the curd is finished cooking, just blitz it for 45 seconds with a stick blender and the problem will be solved. Tap the curd bowl on the bench top a couple of times to pop any bubbles that may have formed. or you can strain the curd through a sieve. It will take out any large bits of lemon zest too, which I think is what a French Chef would prefer. Store the curd in the fridge. It will keep for about two weeks.