Saturday, October 25, 2008

Leek, Potato and Blue Cheese Bake

Think vegetarian, anglicised Tartiflette. Or a cross between leek and potato soup and potato Dauphinoise. To be specific, one softens sliced potatoes in milk or cream, starts some leeks and mushrooms off in a frying pan, and then layers them both in an ovenproof dish with blue cheese and bakes the lot in a hot oven until golden on top. You could use whatever strong blue cheese you have - I made it with Danish Blue cheese, but Stilton would be just as good. It is substantial enough to eat as dinner in it's entirety (that's exactly what I did last night) or serve as a side dish for a change. I'd probably omit the mushroom if it was to be just an accompaniment, but only because I personally don't tend to eat mushrooms as a vegetable.

For one 1.5 litre/3 pint ovenproof serving dish-full:
  • 750-800g peeled floury potatoes
  • 50g (3 tablespoons plus a bit) butter
  • 1 pint whole milk (or a mix of milk and cream is you want to make it even richer)
  • 2 long trimmed leeks (3 if they are rather stubby)
  • 2 large chestnut or portobello mushrooms
  • 100g strong blue cheese (e.g. Danish Blue or mature Stilton)

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C. Slice the peeled potatoes about 5mm thick. Heat a tablespoon of the butter in a large, deep saucepan, add the potatoes, stir to coat in the butter, then add the milk or cream. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and keep at a good simmer. Stir occasionally to make sure no potatoes are sticking to the bottom, but not too frequently or vigorously as you don't want to break up the potato slices. Meanwhile, slice the leeks into rounds of about 5mm and chop the mushrooms in half and then slice each half thinly. Heat the remaining butter in a large frying pan and add the leeks and mushrooms when it starts to bubble. Fry on a medium heat until the leek is softened, but not browning. Set aside. Grease the ovenproof dish with the remaining butter. Keep simmering the potatoes until they are almost soft in the middle (not quite cooked, but pretty close) then pour about half of them into the greased dish. Cover with the leek and mushroom mixture. Crumble half of the cheese over this, then add the remaining potatoes and sauce. Crumble over the rest of the cheese then bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and golden on top, and totally soft throughout. Leave until it stops bubbling before serving in bowls, preferably with a glass of red wine. Mmmmm....

    Sunday, October 19, 2008

    Rose Cupcakes

    My colleague (of fake baklava fame) has her birthday this week. To mark the occasion, I made cupcakes, of which she is a fan. I have had success with chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate icing previously (declared "the best cupcake I've ever eaten" by two colleagues independently), but wanted something a little different this time. And whilst discussing some beautiful rose buds I bought in Dubai (maybe more on this trip another time) to make tea, I was struck by the idea of rose cupcakes. The Lady H was equally intrigued by the possibilities, and so I set to work this weekend.

    Untempered rose water can be a little too close to perfume, and food which smells like something your grandmother might wash in is never a winner, so I added a small quantity of ground almonds in place of some of the flour, and used just as much vanilla essence as one would for plain vanilla sponge. I wanted tall, proud domes - none of these flat, un-risen looking affairs where the icing is as deep as the underlying cake and still only just fills the paper case* - hence the rather large quantity of batter to make only just over a dozen cupcakes. I ended up with 14, though it could easily have stretched to 18 and still yielded very respectably-sized cakes. I iced them with buttercream, again delicately scented with rose water, and then finished them off with adorable little pink wafer roses (bought from the Jane Asher sugarcraft shop in South Kensington). Very cute, sweet and tender and light and exuding just a faint breath of exotic, floral scent.

    For 14-18 large cupcakes:
  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rose water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 25g cornflour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (leave out if you want almost flat cakes)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3-4 tablespoons cream or milk

  • For the icing:
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 225g icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water
  • 1-3 tablespoons cream or milk
  • Wafer roses, to decorate

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line muffin tin with paper cases.
    Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly, until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla essence and rose water and beat in briefly. Weigh out the flour, almonds, cornflour and baking powder and sieve together into a spare bowl, blending them thoroughly. Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed butter and sugar, beating them in a cup first, and adding a couple of spoonfuls of the flour in between each. Gently fold in the remaining flour. Add enough milk or cream to reach a soft dropping consistency (a batter which just about holds its shape in the bowl and will plop off the spoon when given a single shake). Divide between the cases, leaving about 1cm empty space at the top for big cakes risen above the top of the cases. For more dainty, demure little numbers, only fill the cases two thirds of the way full. Note that I have only one muffin tray, and so some of the mixture has to sit around until the first dozen are out of the oven, but this doesn't appear to be a problem at all (contrary to what I was always taught was the case with sponge mixtures), so don't worry if you too have to cook them in batches. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until risen and golden and a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Turn the tray around after about 15 minutes if your oven does not cook very evenly (like mine), but do not open the door until at least 12 minutes have passed, as you might cause them to collapse if you do so.

    Allow them to cool completely, sitting on a wire rack, before icing. Once you are ready to do this, make the buttercream by creaming the icing sugar into the butter a couple of spoonfuls at a time (if you do more in one go, it will poof up and you will look like a snowman, never mind the state of the kitchen). Beat in the vanilla and rose essences, then enough milk or cream to make it easily spreadable, but definitely not runny - it must hold its shape. Spread over each cupcake and top with a wafer rose.

    * Yes, Hummingbird Bakery, I am referring to you. I was very underwhelmed by their produce - sickly and sugar rush-inducing.