Sunday, September 26, 2010

Soft chocolate and apricot biscuits

I love the food blog world.  Thousands of people, from all over the world, all baking and blogging in delicious harmony.

On a rare day of "nothing", after having dusted (yes! dusted!) our many bookshelves, I spent an hour or two trawling the many interesting food blogs I've accumulated in my favourites list over the last 9 or so months.  I came across a simple recipe for soft chocolate cinnamon and apricot biscuits and decided to give it a go.

The recipe can be found here, in the "I Bake For You :-)" blog.  I had to improvise a little (no SR flour = added extra baking powder; ganache = used 80g dark choc melted with a splash of cream in the microwave), but they still turned out very well.  You could add extra apricots for a more rustic texture, or slightly more sugar or milk chocolate instead of dark for a sweeter biscuit.

These ones were light and fluffy, 'cakey', and not too sweet.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Funeral Food

My poor old Nanna Z lost her battle against old age and a raft of illnesses this week, and was farewelled at a small and simple country funeral yesterday.  Being a flower freak, she would have loved the floral arrangements adorning every spare surface.  As for the food ... while I can imagine her salivating over the range of delicious rustic looking home made cakes and slices; she would certainly have had some "constructive feedback" for the well intentioned caterers.

She was very creative but an absolute perfectionist as well; resulting in her producing some pretty spectacular craft work over the years, including watercolour paintings, flower arrangements, and a visually stunning garden.  But the thing Nanna Z was best admired for was her was her baking.

A perfectionist to a fault, she would have made a fantastic pastry-chef.  Things that I still struggle with after years of practice - spongecake, eclairs, scones, blinis - she would whip up one handed in a matter of seconds, without ever referring to a recipe.  Once I asked her "how do you make your scones rise so high?"  She responded, without batting an eye, "don't bugger around with them too much".  Another oddly fond - if somewhat confusing - memory, was when she grabbed some exposed skin where my jumper had crept up over my jeans, accused me of putting on too much weight, at the same time serving me up a huge plate of jam drops to have with my tea.

She was your quintessential ex-C.W.A. queen, a no-nonsense, frugal, post-war, straight-talking, teetotaling, grey-haired pocket rocket.  Always confrontational, never boring, at times highly entertaining (even if it was occasionally at her expense).  She would bring me to tears of frustration and anger many times - I once went through a period of not speaking to her for almost a year, after a particularly fraught Christmas lunch.  She could be abrupt and rude, controlling, and downright mean.  But that was Nanna.  My mother's mother.  She taught me how to bake, and bake well.  

The Perfect Hollandaise

It's no coincidence that the word "hollandaise" bears a remarkable aural resemblance to "holidays".  And don't we all tend to associate a good hollandaise accompaniment to a lazy long late breakfast of perhaps eggs and some perfect pairings: smoked salmon, baby spinach, grilled tomatoes, avocado, good sourdough, or anything else which takes your fancy at that time of day.

I think I need holidays, I mean, hollandaise.  Here's my almost foolproof version:

Simmer some water in a small saucepan, and put a heatproof bowl over the top (I use a small ceramic pudding dish).  Add 4 room temperature egg yolks and add 2 dessert spoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, whisk with a fork until combined.  Dice up an entire stick (250g) of unsalted (also room temp) butter, and add in one piece at a time to the yolks.  Keep whisking, adding a few pieces of butter at a time, until melted and the sauce is thick.  If it starts getting too thick just remove from the heat immediately and add in a small splash of hot water if necessary (keep the kettle boiled in case you need this contingency).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Let cool slightly to thicken more, then spoon over your favourite breakfast.  Try not to eat it by the spoonful - remember how much butter went into it!