Tag Archives: cream

Potato, Sweet Potato and Beet Gratin

7 Aug

potato, sweet potato and beet gratinTonight, I was lazy. I wanted to spend the entire evening in bed, watching videos, but of course, I needed to cook! I have made a promise to myself to post one recipe or musing every day, and so I wandered into the kitchen to be inspired. I had beets, potatoes and sweet potatoes sitting on the counter waiting for a rosti which I want to make for Ezril. I had loads of little baking paper packages of cheese bits, all wrapped up, and needing to be used. And I had some cream and milk and garlic. Okay then, instead of a rosti, which would take lots of work over the stove, I decided on a gratin. And a gratin with beets! I needed to think this through before jumping in.

I think sometimes that cooking is about inspiration, but equally, it is about preparation. Even if you dont have a clear recipe, and want to be inspired by your ingredients, always, always take five minutes to think about how you are going to put everything together.  If you dont, even in your head, have a clear work progress plan, you will definitely forget something or an important step. Trust me! Ive done it before, with disastrous results!

Beets are gorgeous creatures, but they have one flaw (or wonderful attribute depending on your way of looking at things) – they make everything they touch turn pink! I wanted to incorporate beets into this gratin because I thought they would add an earthy unique flavour, highlighting the creaminess of the potatoes and the sweetness of the sweet potatoes. A good counterbalance. But I really needed to sit and think for a while about how I was going to keep them separate but together. So I decided to prep them all the same way, but in different bowls, and layer them instead of mix them all up. The milk/cream would bind them all together, and the cheese would act as a barrier between the beets and potatoes so they wouldnt completely bleed into each other.

I think this gratin turned out gorgeously. The garlic scented the milk, but you can still taste each individual ingredient. I love love love crusty burnt bits of cheese on anything, and this gratin gave me acres of it. And silky, creamy, rich potatoes. This is a wonderful side dish for a big group, or you can cut down on the amounts, and bake a small pan for just two. Its fantastic the next day, served for breakfast, cold, or sliced and slightly fried, with an egg. Its also great, served with a very tart (arugula) salad for lunch. Its comfort food, from the heart, without a huge amount of effort. Love it!

For a large gratin dish or casserole, you will need:

  • About 3 – 4 cups potatoes
  • 1 – 2 cup sweet potatoes
  • 1 cup beets
  • Boiling water
  • 3 + 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 – 3 tbsp butter (optional – I only use butter if I am not using cream)
  • 2 – 3 cups milk and/or cream (I used a mixture)

The preparation is all important in this recipe. You will need to keep your beets and potato mixture separate until you are ready to bake.

Peel and thinly slice your potatoes and sweet potatoes, and immerse them in cold water in a bowl. Peel and thinly slice your beets, and immerse them in cold water in a bowl. Allow the potatoes and beets to sit for at least 10 minutes. This will encourage some of the starch to come out.

Boil some water, drain the cold water from your potatoes, put them back in the bowl, and slice 3 cloves of garlic over. Cover the potatoes completely with boiling water.  Do the same for your beets, slicing 2 cloves of garlic over. Leave in the boiling water for 15 minutes or so. They will not cook, but they will get a little bit softer. This is what you want.

Meanwhile, grate about 2 – 3 cups of cheese. I used a mix of cheddar, parmesan, mozzarella and pecorino. This was what I had in left over bits in the fridge, and what was available. Swiss cheese, like Gruyere, is more traditional, but I like the process of using up left over bits and pieces.

Drain the potatoes and beets and place back in their individual bowls.

Preheat your oven to 180C

Lightly butter a large baking dish. I use my high casserole dish, because I like layers in my gratin!

Layer a thin layer of beets, salt and pepper them, dot with a bit of butter if you are using, and cover with some cheese. Layer some potatoes, salt and pepper them, and cover with cheese. Continue like this until you have used up all your ingredients. I usually end up with 4 – 6 layers, always trying to end with potatoes. Add a final layering of cheese over the top.

Pour in about 2 cups milk/cream mixture until 2/3rd of the way up to the top layer of cheese. It will vary depending on your dish. Push everything down a bit into the cream. Bake in the oven for at least an 1 hour, possibly up to 2, checking every now and then that you dont need extra milk/cream (you really shouldnt, but add more if you think it needs it). Check to see if the gratin is done by forking a bit of potato – it should be tender, and break under very little pressure.

Take out of the oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Raspberry Curd Tart

22 Jul

intense raspberry flavourSometimes, simple is the most beautiful. I made some gorgeous raspberry curd last night, and decided to present it two ways – with a beautiful cold rice pudding, and in a stunning tart. Both are easy to make with the addition of the raspberry curd – and both ways of presentation really highlight the flavour and texture of the raspberry curd. It is incredibly intense, and a wonderful dessert for a dinner party or high tea.

This is an amazingly dramatic and beautiful tart. Such a pretty looking tart – very girly and yet totally sophisticated. I like to serve it with a blossom of lightly whipped cream flavoured with vanilla. The cream helps to balance the strong flavour of the curd, and adds another textural element to the whole.

Preferably, you should prepare this the day before to allow the curd some time to settle into the tart shell… though if you really want to serve it day of, its fine, it will just be a little bit more unctuous, and the curd will flow out when you cut into it.

First, prepare, your tart shell. This recipe makes enough so you can make two thin shells. I often flavour it with lemon instead of vanilla because lemon really complements the raspberry wonderfully.

For a 12 – 14 inch tarte shell, you will need

  • 2 1/2 cups of cake flour
  • 1 cup / 8 tbsp / 110 g of butter, frozen, then grated
  • 3 tbsp of icing sugar, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod scraped out or 1 tsp of lemon juice and the rind of a lemon, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tbsp or more cold water

Measure out the cake flour into a large bowl. Grate the frozen butter directly over the flour, stopping twice during the grating to gently mix in the butter shards with the flour. Use the tips of your fingers, and just make sure you dont over mix. You want this to be a very gentle process.

Sieve the icing sugar over the flour-butter mixture, and sprinkle over the vanilla or scrape the seeds from the pod, or lemon if you are using. Mix gently again with your fingers.

Add the egg and toss the flour with your fingers, mixing to make a dough. Taste and add up to 1 more tablespoon of icing sugar if you want a sweeter dough. If the mixture doesnt come together as a pastry dough, add a tablespoon of very cold water. Be gentle. It will come together if you have patience, and mix properly.

Form the dough into a ball, cover in cling wrap, and put in the fridge for at least an hour to firm up.

Once the dough has been refrigerated, roll out on a floured surface, sprinkling with a little bit of flour if needed. Transfer to a pie plate, and prick with a fork.

Cover the pie dough with tin foil, and fill in with beans or other pie weights. Bake in a pre-heated 200C oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, remove the beans and tin foil, and prick again with the fork. Brush with some egg white if wanted, to proof the tarte shell so it doesnt get soggy when you add the curd. Bake for another 5 minutes or so or until very lightly coloured.

Let cool.


  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups raspberry curd, cooled
  • 1 cooled tarte shell
  • 1 – 2 cups cream, whipped with a little icing sugar and vanilla

mmmmmmmmmmmmmPour the cooled raspberry curd into the tarte shell, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.

Just before serving, whip the cream with a little icing sugar and vanilla.

Serve in wedges, with a few tablespoons of whipped cream.

Strawberry Tart with Chocolate Ganache, Creme Patissiere and a Port Wine Balsamico Glaze

16 Jul

Strawberry TartIts the end of exam time for Angel Kitten and Ezril, and I wanted to make them something that would be a celebration. I have a real thing for tarts (a natural affinity, shall we say), and strawberries are on my mind. The organic strawberries are just gorgeous – lush, ripe, juicy, and that glowing red that only strawberries can glow. So a strawberry tart it was, but I wanted to make it even more of a celebration. Each and every part of this tart had to be sublime. So I went with a crumbling sweet cookie crust, that is surprisingly easy to make, and, as long as you freeze it, easy to bake too! No pie weights and all that nonsense. Then, hidden between crust and creme, a lick of dark chocolate. This actually is very useful because it waterproofs the crust from the creme that goes on top. And the creme patissiere? Sweet, but not too sweet, studded with vanilla bean, creamy and yet not overwhelmingly so. Perfection. And then the stars of the show – red, ripe strawberries, glazed with a port wine balsamico reduction that just highlights their sweet-tart-juicy-tang.

For me, the key to this tart is there is a lot of resting and waiting. It seems like a lot of work, but it isnt really. The tart dough comes together in minutes, as do all the other components. The important thing is they all need to rest, cool, freeze, calm down and meld together before you go on with the next step. This is a tart to bake over the course of an afternoon (3 or 4 hours) when you have a good book to read, or a dvd to watch. Its fun because the sum is so much more than the parts – but the parts themselves are pretty delightful!


For a 10 inch pie plate, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons very cold butter
  • 1 large egg

In a large bowl, combine the flour, caster sugar and salt. Mix well and make sure there are no lumps. Take the butter out of the fridge, and grate into the flour mixture. I do this in two stages, grating about half, then putting the butter back in the fridge, then using my fingers to mix the grated butter into the flour, and then repeating. Once the butter has been mixed into the flour, it should look crumbly, almost like oatmeal. Make a well in the centre of the flour butter mixture, and in a separate small bowl, beat the egg lightly. Pour the egg into the well, and using your hands or a large spoon, lightly mix all together. As you turn the mixture upon itself, it should become a dough. Dont overmix. Dont knead. Just get it bound together as a dough. It will happen, I promise.

Centre your dough in your pie plate, and using floured fingers, gently roll out the dough to cover the entire pie plate. Make sure the dough is even, there are no bald spots, and that the dough comes up to over the edge of the plate. Prick with a fork all over, and freeze for at least half an hour or more.

While the dough is freezing, you can go on to do other things.

When youre about ready to bake the crust, preheat your oven to 190C.

Take the frozen dough out of the freezer and cover the dough with buttered tin foil, butter side down, pressing down quite strongly. Bake in the oven for about 20 – 25 minutes until lightly browned. Take out of the oven, remove the tin foil very gently. Put back into the oven to brown completely. You want a pretty dark brown crust, otherwise it will be flavourless and slightly doughy.

Once the crust has browned (about 5 minutes more), take out of the oven and leave to cool.

Chocolate Ganache

This is simple, easy and you can use it for many things – glazing a pie crust is but one life – you could drizzle it over vanilla ice cream, use it as a glaze for a cake, or even as the basis for a phenomenal hot chocolate. Im sure there are loads of other uses that you can imagine up.

  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup dark chocolate, in chunks

In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine cream and chocolate. As soon as the chocolate starts to melt, and the cream starts to bubble, take off the heat. Mix well, to ensure the chocolate melts into the cream and all is combined. Keep aside, and allow to cool.

Creme Patissiere

This is so yum. So easy, and so very subtle. I love the vanilla bean studded throughout, but if you dont have a vanilla bean, just use a couple tablespoons of vanilla extract. You can use this to for the basis of any cream fruit tart, and also to stuff eclairs. Simple and good.

  • 2 1/2 cups thick milk
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 – 6 tbsp caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp flour

By thick milk, I really mean milk that has been cut with a bit of cream to give it richness. You dont have to do this, you can definitely use just milk, but I prefer to add about half a cup of cream to 2 cups of milk in this recipe.

Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half, and using the tip of your knife or a small spoon, coax all the seeds out of the bean. Place both bean and seeds into the milk. Put over high heat, and allow the mixture to come just to the boil. Whisk to ensure that a skin doesnt form. Set aside, covered, to steep for about 15 minutes to half an hour.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the caster sugar until light yellow. By the way, the amount of caster sugar really just reflects how sweet you like your creme patissiere. If your strawberries are not that sweet, then use more sugar. Whisk in the flour. The mixture will become very thick and almost pudding-y.

Once the milk has come down to lukewarm, whisk about half a cup into the egg mixture, and then whisk this back into the remaining milk. Put saucepan over heat again, and cook until the creme just comes to the boil, about 5 minutes or so on medium heat. It must boil to become creme. It will get thicker as it cooks, just make sure you whisk constantly. Once the creme is to your consistency, pour into a bowl, and allow to cool, covered with a bit of greaseproof paper or plastic wrap. This will ensure no skin forms.

You can refrigerate the creme patissiere for up to two days. When you are ready to use it, fish out the vanilla bean stalks.

Port wine and balsamic glaze

  • 3/4 cup port wine
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp very old balsamico

In a saucepan (just a note, I used the same saucepan for all these components! Just rewashed it over and over, saved on the cleanup!) combine the port wine, caster sugar and balsamico. Stir to ensure that the sugar has dissolved into the wine mixture. Over medium heat, boil the wine until it reduces by half and becomes very syrupy. It will eventually boil up – this is usually a clue that its reduced far enough. Pour into a heat proof bowl, and allow to cool.


  • Baked and cooled tart shell
  • Chocolate ganache
  • Creme patissiere
  • 1lb/500 gm fresh strawberries (or more if you want), hulled, and sliced if you want or kept whole

You can assemble this pie up to 1 day before serving, but honestly, I think its better the day of serving, assembled a few hours before eating.

Using an icing spreader, or the back of a spoon, spread the chocolate ganache all over the cooled tart shell, including the sides. Use as much or as little of the ganache as you like. Any leftover can be used for a variety of delicious things! Place the chocolate covered tart shell in the fridge for at least half an hour to let the ganache solidify.

Once the ganache has hardened, take the tart out of the fridge, and spread the cooled creme patissiere over. Dont fill the pie right to the edge, as the strawberries will displace a bit of the creme.

YumArrange strawberries in a pretty pattern all over the creme patissiere, and brush them gently with the port wine glaze. Refrigerate for at least half an hour and up to a day.

Celebrate 🙂

Cream Scones with Strawberries (or Strawberry Shortcakes!)

14 Jul

Scone with strawberries and creamEither way you cut it, scones with strawberries (English) or strawberry shortcakes (American) are delicious – and they highlight one of the most beautiful, sensuous, tangysweetsourjuicy products of summer – the strawberry. I love strawberries every which way – plain, with yogurt, cream, ice cream, with balsamic drizzled all over, in pies, crumbles, smoothies. I could go on and on and on. Strawberries, especially fresh summer berries, are a little love explosion in your mouth. But please, if you dont have strawberries, do not buy the frozen berry. Of all the different berries, strawberries just die when you buy them frozen – I find that they turn mushy and pulpy. Strangely enough, fresh picked, home frozen strawberries dont have that problem so much. Not sure why.

Scones and devon cream have always been a favourite – as have strawberry shortcakes the other side of the pond! Amazingly enough, the recipe is basically exactly the same. And so simple, as long as you do a little prep work (if you can call shoving some butter in the freezer and cutting up some berries prep) a few hours beforehand. The frozen butter is a must. It ensures soft, fluffy, rising scones, with plenty of layers. Try and handle this dough as gently and as little as possible. You dont want to melt the butter. Work quickly especially in the heat and humidity of summer.

Makes 6 – 8 scones / shortcakes

  • 1 stick / 8 tbsp / 115 g butter, frozen
  • 2 cups all purpose flour + bit extra for roll out
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cream/half and half/milk + 1 tbsp
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp rough granulated sugar
  • 1 – 3 cups strawberries
  • 1 – 2 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 – 2 cups heavy whipping cream

First of all, freeze your butter. You need to do this at least an hour or so before you start the recipe. Then, if you like, prep the strawberries. Cut about 1/3 of the berries into slices, and crush with a few teaspoons of caster sugar. Cut or slice the rest of the strawberries into the crushed juices, and if you have it, pour a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar over. Leave in the fridge to get juicy and gorgeous.

When you are ready to start, preheat your oven to 200C.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt. Mix with your fingers to combine well. Grate the frozen butter over the flour mixture, and using the tips of your fingers, mix till just combined, and all the butter is coated with flour.

Measure out 1/2 cup of cream or milk, beat egg lightly into milk, and add a glugg of vanilla extract. Pour this over the flour/butter mixture, and using your hands, combine lightly. Knead once or twice to form a soft dough. Refrigerate if you are not using immediately.

Flour your work surface lightly, and roll out dough to about 1 inch thick. You should be able to get about 6 – 8 scones from this. I used a glass as my cutter. Place at least 1 inch apart on your baking paper lined baking tin, and using your fingers, glaze with a little heavy cream. Sprinkle some rough granulated sugar over the top. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until tops are golden brown, and baked through.

While scones are baking, whip 1 – 2 cups of heavy cream until soft peaks form. Once scones have cooled down to warm, split apart, pile with strawberries, and top with cream. Devour.

Grasshopper Pie

11 Jul

Grasshopper Pie with chocolate Cool green mint mousse, over a chocolate biscuit base. A cloud of whipped cream hides nuggets of chocolate – a surprise texture in the midst of all that smooth silkiness. Grasshopper pie is quite retro, but since I was serving a rather retro dinner (tacos with all the fixins) I thought this was apt. Tacos are also very healthy – no cream, no butter, lots of fresh veg. So something as decadent as this is a fun trade off. And watching the World Cup finals, it was imperative that we have something very satisfying and comforting and delicious. This one comes up trumps on all counts.

Its also very easy to make. I do the biscuit base, the mousse and sprinkle the chocolate nuggets the night before. I decide if I am really gonna go whole hog so to speak the day of serving. Agar agar is cooked with milk and eggs to form a custard. Creme de menthe is added, and whipped cream “lightens” (dont you wish) the whole thing. Pour it onto the biscuits, sprinkle nuggets of chocolate over, and refrigerate. Perfection.

By the way, this recipe calls for a double boiler. But I dont have one, and couldnt be bothered with one if I did. I boil water in a saucepan, and set a heatproof bowl over. Enough lah.

You can serve this three ways. For a very elegant, pure green pie, stop with pouring the mint mousse into the pie plate. It is very grown up and sexy. For a slightly rowdier pie, textural and delicious, stop with sprinkling the chocolate pieces (or shaving some chocolate if you want something slightly more sophisticated) over the mint mousse. Which, as you can see from the photo, is what I have decided to do. And finally for over the top lushness, top the whole thing with whipped cream. I might still yet be tempted 😉

For one 10 inch pie, you will need:

  • 12 Mint Milano cookies, crushed
  • 10 chocolate wafer biscuits, crushed
  • 4 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tsp agar agar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup creme de menthe
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup chocolate bits
  • additional whipped cream (about 1 cup) to cover

Place all your cookies in a zip loc plastic bag, and crush. I usually bang them about with the bottom of my olive oil bottle. Tip all the biscuits into a pie plate, and make a little well in the centre. Melt 4 tbsp butter, and pour over the cookies. Using your fingers, mix well, and pat to form a crust. Refrigerate until needed.

In a large, heatproof (metal) bowl, pour milk and sprinkle over agar agar. Leave for 5 minutes to let the agar agar soften.

Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water, and bring to the boil. The agar agar should have incorporated into the milk by then. Whisk to combine, and place the large bowl over the top of the saucepan. Lower heat. Cook the milk and agar agar, whisking often, for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until the agar agar has been completely combined into the milk. It will thicken, and as its cooking, you will be able to taste and see the grainy agar agar. Keep at it, and keep whisking, and the agar agar will melt into the milk. Youre ready for the next step when it is silky smooth.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks together with 4 tbsp caster sugar until light and lemon coloured.

When the milk mixture has thickened, and there is no more grittiness from the agar agar, take the bowl off the heat, with a cloth or oven mitt, and drip the egg yolk mixture into the hot milk, whisking constantly. The mixture will incorporate, and immediately whisk in the creme de menthe. Put the bowl over the boiling water in the saucepan again, and keep whisking until the mixture is the consistency of a thick custard. This should take about 5 – 10 minutes. Be patient, and keep beating often!

Meanwhile, beat 1 cup cream in a stand mixer (so you have time to also focus on the mint custard) until it holds stiff peaks. As soon as the custard is thick like a pudding, place the hot bowl over a bowl filled with ice. Please remember to use a cloth or oven mitt to transfer! This will cool down the mixture significantly. Remember to continue whisking all the while. As soon as the mixture is lukewarm, whisk half the whipped cream to combine. Fold the remaining cream into the mixture until combined, but do it gentlegentle. You want to keep some of the air in there!

Pour this mixture into the prepared pie plate, and sprinkle with chocolate. I usually use dark chocolate, but you could use anything you like.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day.

Up to 8 hours before serving, whip an additional cup of cream and a whisper of agar agar (to help it hold) and mound over the top. You could flavour this cream if you like – a scant teaspoon of caster sugar and some vanilla, or some dark cocoa powder, or even a little bit of coffee. You could do without this though if you just cant deal with so much richness. The pie is divine as is!

Share with those you love.

Vegetarian Panna Cotta

9 Jul

I have always loved panna cotta. The milky, trembling, perfectly set dessert just does it for me. May be because its so simple – the essence of milk. Scented lightly with vanilla, not too sweet, creamy and yet light, its a wonderful dessert. You can add all sorts of things – a chocolate sauce, a drizzle of strawberry jelly, fruits – to the pana cotta itself, or on the side, and you will get a different taste. A light espresso sauce comes to mind. Anyway, the whole point is, panna cotta is a simple and delicious thing – but I was unpleasantly surprised when I found out how it was made: milk, sugar, vanilla and gelatin. Now, vegetarians cannot eat gelatin because its made up basically of hooves, bones and cartilage of animals from the slaughterhouse boiled down. I will consume animal by products like eggs and milk, but not by products from animals that have been slaughtered. So I have foregone my panna cotta, and moved on to other delights.

Until a few months ago, when I used agar agar to stiffen and hold whipped cream. Hmmmm. I wondered if the same could be applied to the creation of panna cotta. Well, yes, but. Yes it can, agar agar is an excellent gelling agent. And yes, its relatively easy. But, you really have to follow instructions. I know this by trial and error. For almost each cup of milk or cream that you use, you need a little less than 1 tsp powdered agar agar. The agar agar must be given sufficient time, in a variety of circumstances, to melt and incorporate into the cream. If it doesnt, you get a yucky, grainy, unset mess. I know. It happened to me!

I did save it though, and now have six pretty glasses of panna cotta settling peacefully in my fridge. This dessert is easy to make as long as you accept there will be a long period of calm reflective slow cooking, and a few moments of utter chaos. Best prepare for the chaos at the beginning and set everything up so that at least it is controlled. If you do, you will have a guilt free (well relatively) panna cotta that really delights.

For 6 ramekins or glasses you will need:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or additional milk if you dont have or dont want to use the buttermilk)
  • 3 3/4 tsp agar agar
  • 3 cups cream or half and half (I used 1 1/2 c cream and 1 1/2 c whole milk)
  • 6 – 8 tbsp sugar (preferably caster)
  • 1 vanilla bean split in half  or 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • At least 2 cups ice

First off the prep. Set up your six glasses or ramekins on a clean tray or baking sheet and set aside. Have a large mixing bowl (that will fit your saucepan comfortably) at the ready, along with ice in the freezer, a large pouring jug, and a sieve.

In a medium saucepan, pour the 1 cup milk + 1/2 cup buttermilk and sprinkled the agar agar on top. Mix well and leave for at least 5 – 10 minutes to soften and incorporate. I use buttermilk in this recipe because I love the subtle tang it gives the finished product – it enhances the taste of milk, without intruding. However, if you just like milk, just use milk!

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, pour the cream / half and half and sprinkle over the sugar, and mix in the vanilla extract, or scrape out the vanilla bean, and pop its contents, and it, in. Leave to get acquainted.

After about ten minutes or so, go back to the saucepan, and on low heat, bring to the simmer, stirring all the while. What you will want to see is the mixture slowly getting thicker, and the agar agar melting. You want to bring this just-almost-not-quite to the boil. A few bubbles coming lazy to the surface and you know youre just  a tad too hot. You want to do this slow and gentle.

Hold the milk at a simmer, stirring slowly all the while for 3 – 5 minutes, and then add half of the cream mixture. Continue stirring and repeat bringing the milk-cream mixture just to the boil, and keeping it at a high simmer for a few minutes. Finally, add the rest of the cream mixture and repeat. This entire process should take you between 10 – 15 minutes. Your main aim here is a smooth creamy mixture. You want to ensure that the agar agar is completely melted into the milk and cream, and it can only do so if you bring it just to the boiling point. Enjoy this time, because all hell will break loose soon!

Agar agar gells without the need for refrigeration, so as soon as you take it off the heat, it will start to stiffen up. You now need to work extremely quickly. Put ice into the large bowl with water, and set the saucepan atop. Mix to cool down for only a few minutes – you still want to work with a warm/hot mixture, otherwise it will start gelling! Place sieve over your pouring jug, and pour all the cream through, pressing down on the solids, and discarding. Pour the cream straight into your ramekins or pretty glasses. You will see the drips and drops starting to gel so work quickly but evenly. Cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

A note on the agar agar: I have read that agar agar to liquid should be a 1 tsp to 1 cup ratio. I have tried this, and it comes out a very very stiff jelly. My aim for the panna cotta was a slightly wobbling, smooth, silky dessert. I have therefore come up with a ratio of 4 1/2 cups liquid to 3 3/4 tsp agar agar. This is an important measurement. Please make sure you measure everything carefully. If your agar agar does not set, or sets too hard, you can always melt everything down again, reheat and go through the same process. If it is set too hard, add at least 1/2 cup of milk and 1 tsp or more of sugar. If it has not set enough, add 1/4 tsp of agar agar.

Good luck!

Fresh Mint Ice Cream

8 Jul

Oh the joys of mint ice cream. I cant tell you what a wonderful contrast the sharp, icy mint and the smooth creamy ice cream tastes like – you will just have to try it yourself! An ice cream maker is quite important for this recipe, but you could, I suppose, freeze the custard, and check on it at hourly intervals, stirring to make sure no crystals form. I use a mixture of fresh mint and mint extract, and I combine spearmint, peppermint and applemint in my fresh mixture, though if you only have access to one type, by all means use only that. I also use a mixture of 2 to 1 in terms of cream and milk, but you can adjust this according to your tastes. The egg whites can be refrigerated in a clean bottle and used within a week for something delicious like meringues or something boringly healthy like an egg white omlette.

This recipe makes 2 pints, and you could certainly halve it if you are not feeding a large number of people! Make it a few days ahead of time so the ice cream has time to ripen and deepen in the freezer.

  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups packed mint (a mixture of spearmint, peppermint and applemint), stalks removed and washed clean of grit
  • 1 + 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp peppermint or mint extract (if needed, and I usually do)

In a blender, combine the cream and the mint and 1 cup of sugar, until the mint is just flecks of green in the cream. Pour this mixture into a large saucepan and add the 2 cups of milk. Heat on a very very low fire until simmering (don’t boil), and then take off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for at least 15 minutes, and up to a couple hours.

When youre ready to start again, beat the remaining sugar with the egg yolks, until a bright yellow golden colour.

Once the mint cream has steeped, test for heat. If its cold, heat it up so that when you dip a finger in it, it feels like very hot bathwater. Take about a half cup of the mint cream and beat it into the egg sugar mixture. Incorporate this back into the mint cream, which should be set over a very low fire. Cook, stirring slowly, for about 6 – 8 minutes or until a custard forms. You can tell this is working if you dip a spoon into the cream and run a finger across the back, you see a clear clean line.

Be brave when making custard. People fear that they will end up with a sweet scrambled egg mess! I wont lie, sometimes that happens, but you will get the hang of it quite quickly. Low heat and constant stirring are the keys to success. You will see the mixture turn from a watery liquid, to a thickish custard – this is where you want to stop, and take it off the heat and test it. If you do get a few scrambles, don’t worry – the sieving process will make sure those curdy bits at the bottom don’t get into the final mixture! Also, you can beat (gently with a fork) in half a cup of cold cream once you have sieved the mixture: this sometimes helps a lot.

Put a large sieve or cheesecloth over a clean large bowl, and pour the custard through the sieve, pressing down, and then discarding the solids. Taste for sugar (remember that when you freeze ice cream, your taste buds don’t taste the sweetness as well), and for mint. If needed, add a teaspoon or two of mint or peppermint extract. If you think it needs to be sweeter, beat about half a cup of custard in a smaller bowl with a couple heaping tablespoons of sugar, and combine back.

Put the custard in the fridge and let it cool completely for 6 hours, or overnight. Taste again.

Once the custard has cooled, follow the instructions on your ice cream maker, and churn. This should make 2 lots of ice cream in the usual 1 pint ice cream maker.

Spoon into a clean waiting container, and freeze overnight, or a few days, to let the flavors ripen and deepen.

PS — help yourself to a scoop of the freshly churned ice cream — cook’s treat!

Banoffee Pie

2 Jul

This is not the traditional recipe for Banoffee Pie. For that, you will have to go here.

But this is the banoffee pie of my childhood. A cookie crumb crust made with HobNobs and melted butter. A thick dark golden brown slather of dulce de leche. Bananas. And a mound of unsweetened vanilla whipped cream. Each on its own, good. Combined together. Nirvana. Honestly. And its one of those desserts that you learn to make from very young, and because its so easy (given the preparedness of the ingredients), you feel a sense of achievement and satisfaction when it is served to ooohs and aaahs.

Assembly is easy, and you can certainly make this divine pudding over a few days, and assemble a few hours before serving. Its really good as breakfast too. Heh.


  • 3/4 roll of Hobnobs
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Put about 3/4 roll of HobNob cookies in a zip loc plastic bag. You should have may be 5 or 6 left (good for a cook’s tea!). Break them up a bit using your hands, and then, using any heavy object (the bottom of a wine bottle will come in handy here) smash and crush the biscuits to a fine pebbly sand. You might need to do this in two batches.

Pour the crushed biscuits into an 8 inch round, non stick, springform cake pan. Pour the melted butter over, and mix. Using your fingers, create a crust at the bottom, and about half way up the sides of the pan. Put in the fridge for about 20 minutes to harden up a bit.

Whipped cream

I stabilise my whipped cream with agar agar, which is a vegetarian gelatin made from seaweed. Its totally flavourless, and about 1 tsp of agar agar to 1 cup of cream ensures the cream stays whipped and high, even after 12 hours in the fridge.

You will need to whip:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tsp agar agar
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence

together until they hold hard peaks. Set aside for the assembly.


Take the crust out of the fridge, and pour in the cooled dulce de leche. It should completely coat the bottom of the crust, and be about 1/4 inch thick. If you want more, go ahead and add more, just remember it is VERY sweet.

Take about 6 -9 small pisang mas bananas (or whatever is available for you), and slice lengthwise. You should get about 3 long slices from each banana. Layer the bananas over the dulce de leche. Put in the fridge for about 20 minutes to firm up again.

Cover the entire pie with the unsweetened whipped cream, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 24.

When you are ready to serve, run a knife around the edges, and unmold the springform pan gently.

Serve with love and gratitude.

World Cup Pasta

20 Jun

Yesterday, we watched the World Cup together, and decided to make a meal. Its such an exciting time of the year, and so much fun to watch the action unfolding in South Africa! We made rice crispie treats with rice crispies, marshmallows, butter and vanilla (very delicious – like crisp vanilla ice cream!) and the perfect chocolate chip cookies from Cook’s Illustrated. I will post the recipe for those later. But the pasta was the star, and oh my goddess it was good!

For 4 – 6 people

  • Approx 2 – 3 tbsp truffle oil (olive oil infused with truffle)
  • 4 -5 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 4 – 6 large mushrooms (I used portabello) sliced roughly
  • 4 – 5 thin slices cold butter
  • Good glug of very old delicious balsamic vinegar (the syrupy-er the better!)
  • Approx 10 – 15 ripe cherry tomatoes sliced in half
  • Salt and pepper
  • Big glug of cream
  • Angel hair pasta

Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with the truffle oil, and arrange garlic over. Over a very low heat, begin to fry the garlic. You dont want it to burn, just infuse the oil and become soft and ever so slightly golden. Dont flip the garlic or move it around the pan – just let it slowly come to heat with the oil.

Meanwhile, peel and roughly slice the mushrooms. How many you use depends on how much you like mushrooms, and how many people you have to serve – I usually use 1 large mushroom per person. Once you really smell the garlic wafting from the pan, tip in all the mushrooms all at once, and increase the heat to medium high. Stir the mushrooms so they pick up the oil and garlic, and then lay the butter over the top of the mushrooms. The butter will melt in the heat and steam coming from the mushrooms, and will infuse them with flavour, and will also add to the thickness of your sauce.

As the mushrooms begin to fry, and the butter has been melted, pour a good glug of balsamic vinegar over, and stir the entire heady mixture together once or twice. You should see some mushrooms begin to burn a bit, and some juices begin to release. Slice the cherry tomatoes over the top, and let the heat get to them, and watch them wilt a bit. Add salt and pepper to taste.

As the mixture begins to come together, add the cream. I usually dont measure this but again, its relative to the amount of people eating. The cream will pick up all the flavours of truffle, balsamic, mushroom and garlic, and will turn a rich brown. Squish the tomatoes into the cream so that they add their sweetness and tartness to the sauce. Let the cream come to a full boil and thicken. Taste for seasoning. Add more cream if you want it.

As the cream is boiling, prepare the angel hair pasta. It should take a few minutes in a boiling pot of water, with a pinch of salt and a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Drain the pasta, stir it, and if you want, add a little bit of butter for flavour.

Using tongs, transfer the pasta to the frying pan and mix well. This gives you control over how much pasta you add to the sauce and ensures you dont have a pasta heavy, lightly sauced meal. Keep tasting as you add the pasta – it will dilute the flavours of the sauce. You might need to add a little more salt to brighten the flavour.

Serve, in bowls, with parmesan to grate over. Enjoy the game!