Fig Semifreddo, a Magic Dessert.

I have a backlog of good recipes to share with you, dear reader, as I’ve been rather quiet on that front for a while. Thanks to a flurry of small luncheons and dinner parties, I was compelled to lift my game and search out dishes that might even excite my own jaded appetite. In sharing them with you, I also benefit by adding them to a safe place for the future, my recipe file. Most of these new recipes involve seasonal fruits, especially figs.

The fig season has given us one month of sweet eating. Every day I take an old hand-woven basket down to the orchard and carefully select a few ripe specimens. They continue to ripen on the bench for another day, but the window of opportunity passes quickly. Other than scoffing them down with some soft gorgonzola dolce and toasted walnuts, I’ve been hunting and collecting the best fig recipes for desserts, jams and sweet/savoury salads. 

We have two varieties in our garden- the commonly grown Brown Turkey fig and the green-skinned White Adriatic fig, sometimes called the strawberry jam fig, in reference to its sweet jelly like red flesh, excellent flavour and flesh quality. Both have their place, although I have a preference for the Adriatics. The leaves make great serving platters, or are useful for covering up various body parts or embarrassments. They are easy to grow, don’t need pollinating or pruning, but prefer a non windy site and plenty of water in late Spring and Summer. If you have room, I recommend that you plant one, if only for the thrill of making figgy desserts.

Fig semifreddo with poached figs and amaretti biscuit.

I’ve only recently discovered the joys of making semifreddo since the demise of my ancient ice cream maker. I might just stick with this faster and easier concoction in the future. The following recipe is a beauty, especially for those who are blessed with a productive fig tree as well as lots of home laid eggs.

Semifreddo di Fichi /Fig Semifreddo

Ingredients

350 g fresh figs
125 g brown sugar
7 egg yolks
100 g caster sugar
350 ml whipping cream
3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Method

  • Wash the figs, remove the stems (keep the skin on) and finely dice. Place them in a non-stick pan on a high heat, stirring constantly. After a few minutes add the brown sugar. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and allow the figs and brown sugar to caramelise for around 20 minutes until you have a jam-like consistency.
  • Stir in the lemon juice and remove the pan from the heat to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add the 50 ml of cream and gently work it into the jam.
  • In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip the egg yolks on high for 10-15 minutes until they triple in volume. Add the caster sugar slowly, ensuring it is well mixed with the eggs. The mixture should be quite thick.
  • In a clean bowl, whip the rest of the cream to soft peaks. Then slowly fold the cream into the egg mixture, being careful not to lose the volume.
  • Gently fold the fig jam into the cream.
  • Place a large sheet of cling wrap over a plastic or metal container. I used a bread loaf tin, measuring 24cm L by 11 cm W and 10 cm D. Pour the cream into the container, filling to the top, leaving the cling wrap to hang outside each side. Cover well with tin foil and place in the freezer for at least 12 hours. You can make this dessert a day or so ahead.
  • About 10-15 minutes before serving, take the tin out of the freezer and flip it upside down onto a long tray before slicing it.

Adapted from a recipe found on Mondo Mulia

Make a compote of lightly poached figs. Remove the figs after a few minutes of poaching then reduce the sauce then strain it. Serve with the semifreddo.

Poaching liquid for figs.

  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons brown or granulated sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeded (optional)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 or so figs

Further reading on figs here and here.

Plum Clafoutis, a Light Summery Pudding

Another day, another plum recipe. Will my pile of plums ever shrink! This classic Clafoutis recipe is based on Julia Child’s cherry Clafoutis. As the cherry season never really got into full swing this year, I found this plum version to be a wonderful substitute. When fruit other than cherry is used in a Clafoutis, such as pears, apples, plums, prunes, blackberries or other berries, it is called a flaugnarde. I can see a fig and blackberry flaugnarde coming my/your way soon. This plum version resembles that lovely winter dish from Brittany, Far Breton. Left over Clafoutis makes a wonderful breakfast.

left over clafoutis for breakfast
Left over Clafoutis for breakfast, re-warmed

Ingredients

  • 500 gr firm, ripe plums
  • 1¼ cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract ( or 3 teaspoons or 15 ml)*
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1/3 extra cup sugar
  • icing sugar for dusting

Directions

Preheat oven to 180ºC. Cut plums in half and sprinkle with some sugar. Set aside.

Place all the ingredients except the last 1/3 cup sugar in a blender in the order they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.

Butter the base and sides of a low sided 8 cup gratin dish. Pour in a shallow layer (1.2cm) of batter and put in a moderate oven for a few minutes until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat. Place plums over the batter and pour on the remaining batter; smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the middle rack of the oven for about an hour, or until the Clafouti has puffed and browned on top. Check with a toothpick to that it comes out clean. Sprinkle the Clafouti with icing sugar before serving. Serve with runny cream or ice cream.

before adding the runny cream.
Before adding the runny cream.

*About Tablespoons. As Julia child was an American chef, she would have used an American Tablespoon, naturally. But did you know that American tablespoons are smaller (15 ml)  than Australian tablespoons (20 ml) ? 1 American tablespoon = 3 teaspoons, whereas 1 Australian tablespoon = 4 teaspoons.

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Plum Clafoutis at time of the day

See my earlier post on dried cherry clafoutis here, which employs a very different method.

Waiting for Cherries. A different Clafoutis

One of the joys of Christmas, as far as our seasonal food calendar goes, is the arrival of fresh cherries in abundance. The season usually peaks in mid to late December but this year they are appearing more slowly, thanks to a very cold Spring. The plump, expensive boxes have hit the shelves, but I am still waiting for the big flush, when cherries appear in luscious piles on fruiterers’ tables, dark, plump and cheap, the Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailer cherries, to hang over ears or slurp out of the bag before reaching home, as well as a few kilos to preserve in Brandy, or to stud a Clafoutis.

A comforting little pudding.
A comforting little pudding.

In the meantime, this unusual recipe for Cherry Clafoutis caught my eye. It utilises dried sour cherries, reconstituted in Cognac. Or perhaps the Cognac caught my eye first, a Christmas life saver of a drink for those who feel a little stressed.

Preserved Cherry Clafoutis.

  • 150 ml pouring cream
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
  • 2 eggs
  • 85 gr caster sugar
  • 1 egg white
  • 25 gr ( 1/3 cup) plain flour, sifter
  • icing sugar to serve
  • clotted cream, or mascarpone whipped with cream, or just cream, to serve

Preserved Cherries

  • 60 gr dried cherries
  • 100 gr white sugar
  • 3 ml Cognac

For preserved cherries, combine dried cherries in a saucepan with sugar, Cognac and 150 ml water and cool on low heat for 7-8 minutes until liquid is syrupy. Watch that the liquid doesn’t turn to toffee.

Preheat oven to 180C. Heat cream and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat, bring to boil, remove from heat and cool. Remove vanilla bean. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk egg white until soft peaks form, then add the cream mixture and fold to combine. add the flour and fold in, then slowly beat in the egg mixture.

Spoon cherries into a lightly buttered and sugared 6 cup ovenproof baking dish. Pour batter over cherries and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Serve immediately, dusted liberally with icing sugar and with cream.

The cherries are in hiding.
The cherries are in hiding.

This version of clafoutis is very light and more like a souffle in texture, so it is best to eat it straight from the oven, though I must mention that it is rather nice at 6.30 am, eaten straight from the fridge, which is the quiet hour when I like to write and eat leftovers. The recipe is also handy for all other seasons, and may suit the cherry- deprived in the Northern Hemisphere. Of course you can use fresh cherries or ones you preserved from last year.

close up of clafoutis
The heart of a clafoutis

**The recipe is from a Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook and is attributed to Peter Gilmour.

And now for a song plant/ear worm for the day. Just change the chorus from Sherry Baby to Cherry Baby when you make a classic cherry Clafoutis.

Get My Swan Costume Ready. School Holiday Pavlova

It’s school holiday time in Melbourne, with kids in the kitchen and mess everywhere. The girls wanted to make something sweet but both have radically different tastes. After some negotiation, a pavlova was agreed upon, after some squabbling about suitable toppings. Before we grabbed the electric beaters, a detour through history into the life of Anna Pavlova was fun, something I had never thought about much before their visit. As Tchaikovsky played in the background, we admired all the beautiful old photos of Anna Pavlova in her divine longer tutus and portraits of her with her pet swan, Jack.

Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack
Anna Pavlova with pet swan, Jack. Photo from Pinterest.

We discovered other wonderful facts about Anna’s life, including her last words on her death-bed, “Get my Swan costume ready.” This is now our secret code for beating up egg whites or dying like a swan, which ever comes first.

kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen sculpting a Pavlova

Pavlova is an easy dessert for young cooks to whip up. It doesn’t matter if it cracks or turns out misshapen. It will still taste great. Just crack and separate the eggs for them and hand over the electric beaters. They love watching the whites whip up into a big fluffy tutu. Once the eggs are standing up, the younger child adds in the sugar until the boss (me) says they are ready. Add a little cornflour, white vinegar and vanilla and let the kids do the sculpting on a papered tray.

Basic 4 egg Pavlova Recipe ( serves 6-8 )

  • 4 egg whites ( room temperature)
  • pinch of salt
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • few drops of pure vanilla

Preheat oven to 180°c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Draw a 20 cm circle on the paper. Beat egg whites and salt until satiny peaks form. Beat in sugar, a third at a time, until meringue is stiff and shiny. Sprinkle over cornflour, vinegar and vanilla and fold in lightly. Mound onto paper lined tray and flatten top and smooth the sides. Place in the oven, immediately reduce heat to 150° c and cook for 1¼ hours. Turn off the oven and leave pavlova to cool. Invert pavlova and pile with chosen topping.

From Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion

While the meringue cooks and cools, it’s time to make the topping. I usually settle for whipped cream and brandy macerated strawberries or, in season, passionfruit. Daisy was happy to settle for this mundane option but not Charlotte. After rejecting a few of my suggestions, including a lemony custard, she decided on a chocolate mousse filling!! Warning, the following photos of this chocolate mousse pavlova may make you want to utter those dying swan words sooner than expected. This is a pavlova for kids and the young at heart.

Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.
Pavlova filled with chocolate mousse.

Fast Chocolate Mousse Filling.

  • 200 gr packet of cooking chocolate, 45% solids.
  • a dash of rum or brandy
  • 4 egg yolks
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • some whipping cream to loosen.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the boiling water. Loosen with a little brandy or rum.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very pale and thick. Add gradually to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Beat the cream until thick, then add to the chocolate mixture. Stir in well then set in the fridge.

A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.
A cake like this calls for some pretty floral cups.

PS. The chocolate mousse topping was ridiculously rich. from Charlotte 🙂

Anna Pavlova and jack the swan
Anna Pavlova and Jack the swan

Quince and Almond Cake

We never ate quince at home when I was a child, nor did my mother make jam from quince, but I do remember tasting it when I was very young. That unusual sweet tang was firmly embedded in my food memory, like a little chip of sensual data, by my Aunt Edna. She was an excellent cook and often made quince jelly, one of the many jams that appeared at her banquet sized afternoon tea of scones and cakes. I didn’t understand the taste then, but I loved it. Now, I might describe it as ambrosial, ancient, and enticing.

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Poached quince in sugar syrup, with lemon peel and vanilla bean.

Years later, at the age of thirty to be precise, we moved to the country and I rediscovered that refined sweet flavour of Persia, Aphrodite and roses. The annual gathering of quinces from Norma’s orchard involved roaring down a rutted and overgrown dirt track in her old Subaru, with Poppy the dog on board, to the old fairyland quince grove beside the banks of the Diamond Creek. It was well hidden from human and bird predators. The trunks were grey and lime with lichen, the neglected trees gnarled and contorted, but they still cropped yearly. They were planted by the creek banks in the 1890s when the area around St Andrews was largely a fruit-growing district. That secret quince grove disappeared in the devastating bushfires of 2009.

Quince and Almond cake in Autumn light.

In the old days, the orchards bordering the Diamond Creek relied on its regular flow through this valley from its source in the Kinglake hills to the north. Records were maintained by orchardists up until the 1960s. As land holders turned away from agriculture, records of the Diamond Creek’s flow became impressionistic, but most locals will tell you that the volume has decreased significantly over the last 25 years, and in summer, the creek invariably dries up. Coincidentally, Coca Cola/ Amatil began buying up most of the underground water in the aquifer at Kinglake from the 1990s onwards, effectively dehydrating the communities further downstream. Kinglake water is bought for a song and is used to bottle Mount Franklin water. Thoughtless consumers drink pure water from plastic bottles, when they have a very good source of it in their own tap, while a beautiful local creek, a tributary of the Yarra, is left with an irregular flow, not to mention the ramifications for wild life, further desiccation of the bush, increase in bushfire hazard and the problem of plastic.

Just for the colour

Returning to the glories of quince, I am happy to see that quinces are now widely available in markets, appearing from April onwards.  My 5-year-old Smyrna quince tree produces well, but wild birds and summer water shortage makes for a small harvest. I make a few batches of poached quinces each season, which last quite well under poaching liquid in the fridge. I take out slices to make various cakes and desserts, then boil up the poaching syrup, reducing it to a jelly glaze to use as a sauce or jam.

The Original Recipe

  • 250 g butter, at room temperature
  •  1 ¼ cups caster sugar
  •  1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
  •  3 eggs
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • ¼ cup flaked almonds
  • ¾cup milk
  •  2 ¼ cups self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 large pre- poached quinces, drained and cut into slices, liquid reserved.
Quince cake to share. Enough for 10.
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Grease base and sides of a 22 cm springform pan and line with baking paper.

  2. Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat butter, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Stir in almond meal and flaked almonds. Then stir in milk and flour, alternating.  Spoon 2/3 of batter into prepared pan. Top with half of quince. Top with remaining batter. Top with remaining quince. Bake for 1 hr 20 mins or until a skewer inserted in centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 5 mins, then remove sides of pan.  You may need to cover the cake with tinfoil after an hour if the top is already brown.

    Serve cake warm or at room temperature with cream and reduced, thickened quince syrup or more simply with sifted icing sugar.

    The Adapted Recipe. I didn’t like the sound of flaked almonds inside the batter but I still wanted a strong almond taste. I changed the ratio of almond meal to flour and removed the flaked almonds altogether. My version used 1 cup of almond meal to 1 and 3/4 cups of SR flour and a scant teaspoon of baking powder. Try either version. Maybe add a little slurp of Amaretto or a drop of almond essence. I also glazed the cake with some of the reduced hot syrup.

 

A Plum Dessert, Naughty not Haughty.

The plums are ready. They are the highlight of summer. My mother likes to remind me every January about the amount of plums she ate during her ‘lying in’ period after my birth¹. Her hospital room window faced a heavily laden plum-tree: she ate stewed plums for 10 days. Perhaps that accounts for my passion for plums- it came through the milk!

Labne, baked plums, seeds and nuts

I have also been pondering the words plum and plummy in English phrases such as “Speaking with a plum in your mouth” or “He has a plummy accent” and “She has a plum job”. Most Australians would consider a ‘plummy’ accent to be a mark of haughtiness, the term used with disdain in a country relatively free of rigid class distinction. However, if you want to practise speaking with such an accent, pop a small plum in your mouth which will force you to make drawn out “o” noises, with a rather slow and deliberate vocalisation. Another site advises “putting a pen in the mouth, horizontally, forcing you to enunciate your words more and to talk more slowly, giving your words an extra second or two to fully come out of your mouth. Pausing also works, because pausing allows the person you’re speaking to digest all the words you’ve just said.” The assumption here might be that the speaker feels herself to be terribly important and the recipient rather slow and definitely inferior. There you go; proof that those who seek to speak in such a way have soft, plum filled brains. It would be advised, at least in Australia, to lose such an accent very quickly if you don’t wish to be considered imperious, affected and in-bred.

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Plummy Dessert

But then who wouldn’t want a plum job? The notion of easy work, perhaps ‘soft’ like a plum, came about to distinguish well paid positions involving little work compared to those involved with physical labour. The term is still used today to denote highly paid work. In the 1600s, ‘plum’ was a British term meaning £1000, a serious amount of money in those days.

It looks like plums have a lot to answer for.

A Plum Dessert, an original recipe influenced by something I may have either read or eaten. Please play with it. The ingredients are few and flexible but the result is delicious.

  • Fresh Blood plums or Satsuma plums
  • Brown sugar
  • Yoghurt
  • Nuts and seeds. I used almond flakes, pepitas, sunflower seeds and pistachio

Get a tub of yoghurt and make plain Labne. It is a simple process which will take one day. Cut the blood plums in half and remove the stone. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle with a little brown sugar over the each of the cut plums. Bake in an oven at 180ºC until soft, until it oozes with red juice. Pop the nuts and seeds onto another paper lined baking tray, sprinkle with a tiny amount of brown sugar, and bake for a few minutes the oven. Watch like a hawk. Mine went a bit too brown but I still enjoyed them. If you are sugar phobic, don’t add any, though the juices won’t run so lusciously.

Dollop a generous scoop of Labne onto a serving plate, cover with plums and juice, and sprinkle with the nut mixture. Eat for breakfast, lunch or tea or anytime in between.

plummy breakfast
Plummy Breakfast

¹A 1932 publication refers to lying-in as ranging from 2 weeks to 2 months. It also does not suggest “Getting Up” (getting out of bed post-birth) for at least nine days and ideally for 20 days. In my mother’s time, ( throughout the 1950s) it was 10 days before ‘getting up’ after giving birth.

My, how things have changed.

 

Cinnamon Meringue with Caramel Apples

This easy meringue dessert makes an impressive Christmas lunch finale, combining the spices associated with Christmas with hints of fruit mince-pie in the sauce. The individual meringues may be made a week before and the sauce made early on the day, then assembled at serving time.

Cinnamon Meringue with Caramel apples
Cinnamon Meringue with Caramel apples

The Meringues

4 egg whites

225g caster sugar

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp white vinegar

4 tsp ground cinnamon

300 ml thick cream

2 Tbs icing sugar, sifted

The Caramel Apples

4 granny smith apples

1 Tbs lemon juice

2 Tbs (40g) unsalted butter

2 Tbs honey

250g fruit mince

2-3 Tbs brandy

Preheat the oven to 120c. Line a baking tray with baking paper. whisk egg whites until stiff. Gradually add caster sugar until the mixture is glossy. Add the cornflour, vanilla, vinegar and cinnamon and whisk until combined. Draw eight 8 cm circles on the baking paper and pile the mixture into each circle, smoothing the sides. Make an indent in the top of each one and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and leave in the oven to dry out.

To make the caramel apple topping, core the apples and cut into six wedges then toss them in the lemon juice. Melt the butter and honey in a pan over low heat. Add apples and cook, stirring, until the apples caramelise. Add the fruit mince and brandy and cook until heated through. Whip cream and icing sugar together until thick, pile into the meringues, top with apples and sauce.

Easy Christmas dessert
Easy Christmas dessert

 

From Delicious, Lets Do Lunch, p 64. 2003

Sweet Inspiration. Mango and Coconut Upside-down Cake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAround this time of year, I turn to my large magazine stash for sweet inspiration.  I pull out all the December Christmas editions of Delicious and Gourmet traveller and Donna Hay’s annual Celebration edition. Sticky notes flap from far too many pages. I’ll attempt some of these but make some old-time favourites too.

The following Upside down Mango and Coconut cake turned up on an SBS food site. Anneke Manning has a new segment devoted to baking.  As a food columnist for many a magazine, and cookbook author, her recipes are always very reliable. This recipe happily coincided with the arrival of mangoes from the annual mango box fundraiser. It’s a light textured summer cake to follow a Christmas Eve seafood BBQ.

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Ingredients

  • melted butter, to grease
  • 270 ml coconut milk
  • 135 g (1½ cups) desiccated coconut
  • 200 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 220 g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • eggs
  • 150 g (1 cup) plain flour
  • 100 g (⅔ cup) self-raising flour
  • cream or ice-cream, to serve (optional)
  • shredded or flaked coconut, toasted, to serve (optional)

Mango topping

  • firm but ripe mangoes (about 400 g each)
  • 50 g unsalted butter
  • 60 g (¼ cup, firmly packed) brown sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan-forced). Grease a 24 cm x 30 cm (base measurement) lamington tin with melted butter and line the base with non-stick baking paper.

To make the mango topping, cut the cheeks from the mangoes, remove the skin and then cut lengthways into 1 cm-thick slices (reserve the remaining flesh for another use, such as, a mango coulis to be used later on ice cream). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir in the brown sugar and cook for about 1 minute until well combined. Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin and spread as evenly as possible over the base. Arrange the mango slices over the top of the brown sugar mixture. Set aside.

Combine the coconut milk and desiccated coconut in a bowl and set aside. Use an electric mixer to beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until well combined.

Sift together the plain and self-raising flours. Add half the flour to the butter mixture and use a large metal spoon or spatula to fold until just combined. Fold in the coconut mixture and then the remaining flour until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the tin over the mangoes and use the back of a metal spoon to spread evenly, being careful not to move the mango. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Stand the cake in the tin for 10 minutes. Run a palette knife around the outside of the cake and turn out onto a serving plate or large bread board. Serve warm or at room temperature with cream or ice-cream, or on its own, and sprinkled with the flaked coconut.

The cake will keep for two days in an airtight container in the fridge. Bring back to room temperature before serving.

Upside down mango slab cake emerges from it's tin.
Upside down mango slab cake emerges from its tin.

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An Unadorned slice for the cook. Tomorrow the rest will be served with icecream.
An unadorned sample for Moi!

I can highly recommend Anneke’s New column, Bakeproof,  for sweet inspiration.

http://www.sbs.com.au/food/recipes/upside-down-mango-and-coconut-cake

Fresh Fruit Charlotte, Lorenza de’ Medici’s Special Cake.

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Throughout the nineties, which seems like yesterday, I was in love with Lorenza de’ Medici. It wasn’t so much her recipes that inspired me: I wanted to live in her house! I acquired all of her cookbooks at great expense and learnt Italian, a necessary step if I were to become the new proprietress of Badia a Coltibuono. It was a wonderful fantasy. One of the desserts I made during that era came from her glossy coffee table book ‘The Renaissance of Italian Cooking’. I had completely forgotten about this sweet until I recently found the book again at a second-hand store. ( all my cookbooks were lost in 2009 ). The original  price was  $49.00 but this week’s price was $3.99.  I love people who discard their cookbooks, I have re-filled my shelves with cheap treasure.  I made my special dessert again this Sunday and relived all my Italian fantasies. It is back on the top of my favourite dolce list.Image

Charlotta Di Frutta

For the Short pastry.

  • 350 g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 125 g sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • pinch of  salt

For the filling

  • 1 orange
  • 300 g blood plums
  • 1 kg apples
  • 225 g sugar
  • grated peel of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp Marsala
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 vanilla pod ( optional)Image

Method

  1. Prepare the short crust pastry. Place the dry ingredients in the food processor, add the butter, process, then the egg yolks, until mixed and formed into a ball. ( you can do this by hand if you prefer). Roll or press into a flat slab, wrap in cling wrap and let rest in the fridge for an hour or so.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Grate the orange peel and reserve. Peel the orange, removing any pith, and divide into segments. Peel the plums and apples and cut into pieces. Cook the fruit together with the sugar, lemon and orange peel, Marsala, cloves and vanilla pod for 20 minutes, uncovered, over low heat.
  3. Butter and flour a 25 cm springform pan. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry to line the base and sides of the pan. Fill with the cooled cooked fruit and cover with the remaining pastry, rolled out thinly. Cook in a preheated oven at 180 degrees c /350 f for 45 minutes. Let cool before removing from the pan. Dust with icing sugar,and serve at room temperature with cream Serves 8-10.

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Note: this pastry is VERY short, requiring some patching do be done here and there. Despite this frustration, it is worth the effort and will still taste and look lovely.

This post is for Marcel, the boy who appreciates good food!

Baked Pears with Prunes, Chocolate and Almonds

Autumn just gets better and better, with new season’s pears appearing and a few quinces making their debut in the markets. My few garden pears are maturing on the tree- protected from cockatoos and parrots by bird netting. All this bountiful plenty makes me think of how wonderful pear desserts can be.Image

Leah, of the Cookbook Guru, has chosen Karen Martini’s ‘Cooking at Home’ this month. Its a great chance to cook from a recipe book that you might own, or just borrow one, as I did.  It is also a chance to be honest and appraise the pros and cons of a recipe. A few pear recipes caught my eye but I decided to make something with a touch of drama, a little trick that I might keep up my sleeve for when  friends come over for dinner.

       Baked Pears stuffed with prunes, chocolate and almonds. (serves 6)

  • 350 g castor sugar
  • 2 slices of lemon
  • 800 ml water
  • 400 ml white wine
  • 6 beurre bosc pears, peeled, cored, but with stems left intact
  • 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, defrosted
  • pure icing sugar for dusting
  • good quality ice cream for serving

    Stuffing

  • 4 Tablespoons sherry ( or other spirit)
  • 6 prunes
  • 2 Tablespoons currants
  • 100 good quality dark chocolate, melted
  • 10 g toasted flaked almonds
  • 4 pieces glace` ginger, chopped
  1. Combine the sugar, lemon, water and white wine in a large saucepan over high heat and bring to the boil. add the pears, reduce heat to low, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Remove pears and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220c. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  3. Make the stuffing. Heat the sherry in a small saucepan. When hot, add the prunes and currants. Stir, remove from the heat and set aside for 15- 20 minutes. Strain ( if you need to). Combine the melted chocolate, almonds and ginger and prune mixture, then set aside to cool.
  4. Cut the pear shapes from the pastry sheets, with an extra 3 cm all around. Spread 1 tablespoon of stuffing onto the pastry and sit pears on top. Transfer to the baking tray and bake for 14 minutes.  Dust with icing sugar and serve with icecream.Image

Pros.

  • The pears can be made up to a week ahead. I made one third of the recipe for the actual composed dessert, but ate the other pears for breakfast.
  • The stuffing can also be made ahead, leaving the shaping and baking till the last minute.
  • It looks dramatic.

Cons.

  • The lovely sounding stuffing tasted only of fruit chocolate. The subtlety of the other ingredients didn’t shine through ( except for the ginger).
  • The pastry I used was commercial sheet pastry which was hanging around in my freezer. It wasn’t fabulous. I would suggest a really good quality puff pastry in order to get the benefit of puff and crunch that this dessert probably deserves.
  • Mr Tranquillo said he preferred my other pear desserts and was underwhelmed. His opinion was proffered only when pushed!

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