Saturday, 24 April 2010

Showing off Sugar (Muscovado Custards)

A few weeks ago, the nice people at Billington's sent me some sugar to play with. I say play with because it's not really the sort of sugar you'd put in your tea or coffee but is more suited to a baking extravaganza (or possibly sprinkling on your porridge).

Now I've bought Billington's sugar on occasion before, but not for any reason other than the fact that it was what I needed at the time. I mostly bake with golden caster sugar and most bags of muscovado or soft sugars end up at the back of the baking cupboard and rock solid next time a recipe calls for them.

Billington's sugars are unrefined and undergo minimum processing. The sugar cane is cut, shredded and juiced and that juice is then clarified and crystallised. Nothing added and nothing taken away (unlike some brown sugars which are apparently refined white sugar coated to add colour and flavour...).

As luck would have it, the very same week I picked up a copy of the March 2010 edition of Waitrose Food Illustrated which had a feature spread about different types of sugar and their uses, along with a few recipes. This recipe for Muscovado Custards caught my eye as it called for both the dark muscovado and molasses sugar which Billington's had sent.

Although I followed the recipe to the letter (and allowed a little extra cooking time) they didn't set completely. The only thing I can think is that my eggs were a touch on the small side? Despite them not setting, they certainly showed off the sugar to its best. They were rich with a real deep, earthy sweetness. The sort that lingers on the tongue long after the mouthful has gone.


300ml double cream
75g dark muscovado sugar
25g molasses sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 150C.

Warm cream, both sugars and salt over a medium-low heat in a small heavy based pan until sugar has dissolved. Put to one side.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and then slowly whisk in the cream mixture and vanilla extract. Strain into a jug and then poor into ramekins. Now, the Waitrose recipe says to pour the mixture into 4 x 120ml ramekins. Given how rich the custards are, you could probably get away with using smaller ramekins and making 6, but would need to adjust the cooking time.

Put the ramekins in a deep roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the tin until it comes to about one third of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Cook for 20-25 minutes until the custards are just set but still wobble slightly in the middle (they will set further on cooling). Remove from the tin and chill for at least 3 hours.

It is this final step where my custards didn't seem to want to play - they needed longer than the 20-25 minutes stated in the Waitrose recipe and then they didn't continue to set when cooling. They set nicely around the edges but two of them simply didn't set in the middle at all. So if I make this recipe again, I'll make sure my large eggs are just that - large - and that I cook them for a little longer, keeping my eye on them for when they set.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Chocolate & Orange Tart

A few months ago I had the good fortune of being invited, along with a few fellow food bloggers, to an evening of chocolate tasting with the inimitable Paul A. Young at his quaint shop in Camden Passage, Islington.

A revelation! That's what the whole, marvellous evening was - a revelation. I've eaten my fair share of chocolate in my time, but I'm no chocoholic - far from it. I certainly don't go weak at the knees at the sight of a chocolate fondant like one friend I can think of, nor am I an habitual eater of the chocolate bars us Brits have a love affair with (if we are to agree with Jay Rayner's recent musings on the humble chocolate bar).

But for the first time I learnt what it is that I do like and why, what flavours work for me and what I'll be steering clear of in future. The winner by a country mile for me being dark chocolate made from Madagascan beans (in particular the Valrhona Manjari 64%) - fruity, mouthwatering (literally!), citrus flavours. Delicious!

Ever since then, having learnt the difference the type of chocolate you use can make to a recipe, I've been meaning to create a recipe to do Madagascan dark chocolate justice. A few weeks ago I finally got around to trying the confit orange recipe from Paul A. Young's recent book - Adventures with Chocolate - which inspired me to make this Chocolate & Orange Tart. The addition of a little orange zest to the sweet pastry works brilliantly with the rich Madagascan chocolate filling.

You can read all about the different chocolate we tasted that evening in great detail on my friend and fellow food blogger's blog Kavey Eats. We ate a LOT of chocolate...


Sweet Pastry

8oz plain flour
4oz cold unsalted butter (cubed)
1oz icing sugar (sifted)
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
zest of 1 orange (finely grated)

Chocolate Filling

6oz single origin Madagascan dark chocolate
4 oz unsalted butter
2oz golden caster sugar
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks


Confit orange peel (I used the recipe in Paul A. Young's book Adventures with Chocolate which worked really well)


To make the pastry, mix the flour and butter in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to mix for a short time until the pastry forms a soft ball. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for at least half an hour, then roll out to about 4mm thick to line a greased 9 inch fluted tart tin and chill again (you can pop it in the freezer if you're short on time).

Put the tart tin on a baking tray and blind bake the pastry case for around 20 minutes at approximately 180C (depending on your oven). You can do this by laying a piece of baking parchment inside the pastry case and filling it with baking beans (or just some uncooked pulses or rice if you don't have the fancy baking beans). Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Whilst the pastry case is baking, prepare the chocolate filling. Melt the chocolate and butter in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, whole egg and egg yolks until pale and fluffy (the easiest way to do this is with an electric beater if you have one as it takes longer than you think). Once the chocolate and butter has melted, take off the heat and leave to cool slightly before mixing gently into the egg mixture until combined.

Once the pastry case is cooked, turn the oven down to 170C. Pour the chocolate mixture into the pastry case and bake for 5 – 6 minutes. Put the tart on a wire rack to cool. When the tin is cool enough to handle, remove the tart from the tin and leave on the wire wrack to cool.

Decorate with confit orange peel and serve with caramelised oranges or lightly whipped cream.

The worst thing for a food lover... morning sickness.

My life is normally filled to the brim with food. I'm the sort of person who has planned what's for dinner before I've even had breakfast. The stack of books next to my bed is made up of cookbooks rather than trashy novels. I can spend whole weekends in the kitchen cooking up delight after delight. My notebook contains a 'hit list' of must visit restaurants, cafes and food shops.

Yet at the back end of last year I found myself unable to stand the thought of food, let alone the sight, smell or taste of it! It was all I could do to force myself to eat anything vaguely healthy. For some reason, having spent years eating a healthy well balanced diet, I found myself eating anything in crispy crumb coating - fish fingers, spicy bean burgers, cheese and onion breadcrumbed 'things' from Marks & Spencer, ready made meals and a lot of Nairns oatcakes with cheddar (whilst dreaming of oozing, ripe brie, epoisses and stichelton...).

There were a few casualties of this seemingly never ending period of purgatory. The main one which remains is broccoli. Knowing that dark green vegetables are good for me I tried my best to subsitute some of the rubbish I was eating for healthy vegetables. But for the humble broccoli this effort (even coating it in a rich cheddar sauce) was all in vain. There was and is notihng that will entice me to eat this once much loved vegetable. I'm not even rejoicing in the arrival of the purple sprouting broccoli season. This makes me sad.

Eating out became impossible. Starting with the fact I don't eat meat anyway, my choices on a standard restaurant menu are already limited. Add to that the apparent desire of many chefs to create their, often solitary, vegetarian offering from one of the millions of cheeses a pregnant woman is advised to avoid. And finally throw into the equation me - a normally food loving woman with constant nausea who had lost all desire to eat and couldn't stay awake past about 7.30pm. A recipe for enjoyable evenings out this did not make...

But here I am, through the worst (depending on who you listen to...), nearly 22 weeks pregnant, back on my horse and raring to go!