The Musette: Tuscan feast Part II

Here’s part two of my Tuscan feast for you to enjoy with your family and friends. You can find part one here.

Starter: Selection of salads

We’re back from our morning ride and I need something quick, simple and tasty to put on the table while I finish the main course. Big platters of crowd-pleasing salads are ideal. My all-time favourite is made from sun-ripened juicy tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella (or even better burrata), fresh basil leaves, olive oil, fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Chop, scatter and serve – who needs a recipe? But what you do need is great, fresh ingredients. Feel free to turn it into tricolore salad with the addition of a perfectly ripe avocado.

Here’s another salad which relies on perfectly ripe ingredients chopped and scattered on a plate. This time it’s a richly scented, ripe orange fleshed melon, served with thin slices of slightly salty Parma ham on a bed of rocket with a dusting of freshly ground black pepper. This works equally well with fresh black or white figs.

Lastly, a salad which takes advantage of fresh seasonal produce and a good artisan salami. No need to skin the peaches. I’ve used flat white vine peaches here but the usual yellow ones or even nectarines will be just fine – so long as they’re ripe and juicy. I’ve chopped the salami into bite-sized pieces, placed everything on some rocket and, only because I had it in the fridge, added some radish sprouts and seasoned with a dusting of fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Ecco – three delicious fresh salads to ward off the hunger pains. Typically, I would serve these with my home-made focaccia.

You might be thinking “Salads, are you mad, it’s the depths of winter!” In which case can I suggest a warming soup.

Dessert: apricot and almond crostata

Crostata sounds so much more exciting and foreign than a pie or tart, doesn’t it? I love its rustic appearance, versatility and the ease with which you can make it. People get stressed about making pastry but this is really simple as you don’t have to roll it out or blind-bake it. The crust is very forgiving.

Ingredients (serves four hungry cyclists)

  • ½kg (1lb) fresh, ripe apricots
  • 2 tbsp caster or raw cane sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp liqueur or water
  • 1 small jar (1 cup) apricot jam
  • 180g (1½ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 75g (¾ cup) finely ground almonds
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g (½ cup) coarsely chopped toasted almonds
  • 125g (9 tbsp) soft unsalted butter
  • 75g (½ cup) caster or raw cane sugar
  • 1 large organic egg, approx. 45g (1⅔oz) without shell
  • 1 large organic egg yolk
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt

Method

1. Start by making the filling. Cut the apricots in half, remove the stone and place in a saucepan with 2 tbsp of sugar, the liqueur (or water) of choice and the apricot jam for about 5-7 minutes until the fruit has softened. Leave to cool.

2. Make the crust by creaming together the butter and sugar – preferably with a mixer – until light and creamy.

3. Add the egg and egg yolk and continue to mix until combined and the batter is smooth.

4. In a separate bowl, mix together the sifted flour, ground almonds, salt and baking powder.

5. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture and mix just until the dough comes together. Cover with cling-film (plastic wrap) and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.

6. Preheat oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5 (375°F/350°F fan).

7. Once the filling has cooled and the dough has chilled, split the dough in half. Using your hands, press half of the dough into the bottom and up the sides of a 23cm (9″ ) tart pan with a removable bottom. Ensure that it’s evenly distributed in the pan.

8. Spoon the apricot mixture into the crust. Mix the coarsely chopped and toasted almonds into the remaining dough and, using your fingers, break up the remaining crust mixture into small pea-sized pieces and drop it across the top of the tart. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t cover completely the filling – it looks more rustic.

9. Bake the tart in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until it is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving at room temperature with a dollop of mascarpone cream, fresh cream, crème fraiche or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the crostata in the oven, put the timer on for 3-5 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the crostata is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium-foil tent.

4. I like to use my own home-made jam in the filling but, if you don’t have any home-made, a quality bought one will be just fine.

5. You can use an almond liqueur such as Amaretto or maybe even an apricot grappa – think about flavours that go well with your fruit. I used a couple of spoons of my home-made peach and vanilla vodka.

6. Just in case you’re wondering whether I have an illicit still in the flat, I should clarify. In order to use up the large amount of alcohol my husband receives as gifts from clients, I took some fresh white peaches, skinned them and put them in sterile kilner jars, added a vanilla pod and covered them with vodka. I then left the jars in a cool, dark place for at least six months. The fruit is delicious and then I use the leftover liqueur on all sorts of desserts from pancakes to ice cream. I’ve successfully done this with a variety of fruits but my favourites are peaches and raspberries.

7. I now apricots aren’t in season in France in February so use bottled or another fruit which is readily available. I’ve successfully made this tart with rhubarb and ginger, plums, peaches and figs.

The Musette: vegan sticky caramel pear cake

French friends agree that a cooked to order British breakfast, the so called « full English » is magnificent.  To this they would add afternoon tea and puddings. Consequently, in the past my (non vegan) sticky toffee puddings have gone down a treat.

This dessert was my attempt to partly replicate that dish but as a vegan one, plus use up some pears that had gone a bit soft in the fruit bowl. I should have put them in the fridge. Pears have a rapid ripening process that turns them quickly from a hard, impenetrable fruit into a floury mush that browns and bruises easily. Over-ripe and even heavily bruised fruit are best cooked into a nutritious puree or cake such as this one.

That said, this works well with any pear no matter how hard or ripe and bruised it is: all will melt into the sticky cake dough, and will become a delicious companion to the rich and sticky, date-flavoured cake.

Ingredients (Serves 8-12)

  • 200g (2 cups) stoned dates, roughly chopped
  • 350ml (1 1/2 cups) plant-based milk
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100ml (10 tbsp) fruity olive oil
  • 100g (1/2 cup) unrefined raw sugar
  • 220g (1 2/3 cups) wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp powdered ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 1-3 pears, cut in quarters and cored

Method

1. pre-heat the oven to 200C (190C fan)/410F/gas 6½. Put the dates in a saucepan with the plant-based milk, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.

2. Off the heat, add the bicarbonate of soda and stir for 30 seconds, or until the dates begin to dissolve. Leave to cool, then mix in the olive oil, 50g sugar, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.

3. Grease and line a medium-sized cake tin. Sprinkle the rest of the sugar over the base of the tin. If you have only one pear, slice it and lay it out over the base of the tin; if you have two pears, cut them into large chunks; and if you have three or more pears, put the quarters cut-side down in the tin.

4. Cover with the cake mixture and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until just cooked and springy to the touch. Turn out and serve warm.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too much at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.

4. You can substitute the olive oil for another mild or unflavoured vegetable oil.

5. I suspect this would be just as delicious with apples.

The Musette: easy, peasy, chocolate pudding

I think I may have mentioned that my beloved doesn’t believe a meal is complete without dessert! If I do make one it will generally just be for him, or for guests. Furthermore, he’s none too keen on eating the same dessert several days running. This means I either have to make a small amount or something that’ll easily freeze in portions.

This chocolate dessert falls into the former category and, what’s more, tastes quite different depending on whether it’s hot or cold – a result! It’s also rather indulgent and you can easily serve a smaller portion after several courses, either cooking it before dinner or while guests enjoy the cheese course. Furthermore, it’s made with ingredients that most cooks will have in their fridge and cupboards.

Ingredients (serves 4 large or 8 small portions)

  • 100g (31/2oz) dark (semi-sweet) chocolate
  • 2 tbsp dulce de leche
  • 2 medium organic eggs (approx. 55-60g shell on)
  • 100g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp espresso coffee powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC/140ºC fan/gas mark 3 (320ºF/275ºF fan).

2. Chop or break the chocolate into small pieces and leave to melt, without stirring, in a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water (or on a low heat in the microwave). As the chocolate melts, gently stir in the dulce de leche and turn off the heat.

3. Break the eggs into a large bowl, add the sugar, salt and coffee powder and beat until thick and fluffy.

4. Stir the chocolate and dulce de leche into the mixture. You need only two three or three stirs to incorporate it. Do not over-mix it.

5. Transfer to containers using a rubber spatula.

6. Put the containers into a roasting tin or baking dish. Pour enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of them, then bake for 20 minutes until the surface is lightly crisp  – like a macaron – and the inside rich, thick and creamy.

7. Serve with a teaspoon and, if you wish, some cantucci or brutti ma buoni (hazelnut) biscuits.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. As they bake, a soft crust appears on these puddings, while the inside stays rich and fondant-like. They will stay like that for an hour or two, should you wish to make them a little ahead of time.

2. Heatproof china ramekins are ideal for these, but you can also bake them in ovenproof cups. I’ll use espresso cups if I’m making them as a dessert at a dinner party.

3. The recipe is scaleable should you wish to make more (or less).

4. I have baked these chocolate puddings hot for dessert at lunchtime and then my beloved has enjoyed another one cold in the evening, when it is like a thick, fudgy chocolate mousse.

5. I think you could also play around with the flavour by adding a tbsp organic orange zest (chocolate-orange) rather than the 1/2tsp coffee powder which just enhances the chocolate flavour.

6. You might be wondering what to do with the rest of the jar of dulce de leche? Never fear, I have some ideas

  1. A dollop of dulce de leche in your coffee will add sweetness and creaminess. Try it in your morning cup of joe and you will never want to start your day any other way. This also works nicely in iced coffee or hot chocolate, especially when topped with whipped cream.
  2. Next time you make porridge, pancakes, french toast or waffles trade maple syrup for dulce de leche. Warm it in the microwave or on the stove and drizzle over breakfast for a morning delight.
  3. Instead of using buttercream to ice cupcakes try using dulce de leche as a topping. I’ve also used it in Caramel Banana Cake.
  4. Dulce de leche makes a fun dip or sauce for fruit and it’s delicious drizzled over ice cream
  5. If you adore sweet and savory combinations try pairing dulce de leche with cheese (after all, they are both made from milk). Sounds yummy?

This recipe recently featured as a guest post over at A Jeanne in the Kitchen

The Musette: frozen Eton mess

I like to keep a few desserts in my freezer which I can bring out when required, particularly when friends call round at the last moment. This has got to be one of the world’s easiest but most delicious desserts and, better still, is a no-churn affair. You mix everything together, fold it into a loaf tin, freeze and, voilà you’re done until you whip it out to impress. Being dairy, I can’t eat it but everyone assures me it’s divine and it’s so easy to customise.

Ingredients (serves 6 hungry cyclists)

For the ice cream cake

  • 300ml (1 1/4 cups) double (heavy) cream
  • 1 tbsp finely grated organic orange zest
  • 1 tbsp orange flavoured liqueur, I used Cointreau
  • 100g (4oz) good quality, shop-bought meringue nests

For the strawberry sauce

  • 10-15 ripest strawberries from the punnet
  • 1 tbsp finely grated organic orange zest
  • 2 tbsp orange flavoured liqueur, I used Cointreau

To serve

500g (1lb) fresh strawberries, hulled and macerated in another  – why not? – tbsp Cointreau

Method

1. Line a 450g (1lb) loaf tin with clingfilm, making sure you have enough overhang to cover the top later.

2. Whip the cream until thick but still soft. Gently fold the liqueur and orange zest into the cream.

3. Crumble the meringue nests – you want a mix of sand and rubble – and fold these in, too.

4. Pack this mixture into the prepared loaf tin, pressing it down with a spatula as you go, and bring the clingfilm up and over to seal the top, then get out more clingfilm to wrap around the whole tin. Freeze until solid, which should take around 8 hours, or overnight. It’ll happily sit in the freezer for a month.

5. To serve, unwrap the outer layer of plastic wrap, then unpeel the top and use these bits of long overhanging wrap to lift out the ice-cream brick. Unwrap and unmould it onto a board and cut the frozen meringue cake into slabs to serve.

6. Just whiz up the sauce ingredients in your liquidiser or food processor.

7. I like to zig-zag a little strawberry sauce over each slice, and sprinkle the strawberries alongside on each plate.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Swap out the orange zest for lemon, the strawberries for raspberries and the Cointreau for Limoncello and you’ve a completely different dessert. Don’t forget to sieve the raspberry sauce to eliminate the pips and you may also need 1-2 tsp sugar to sweeten it.

2. Exchange the orange zest for 30g (1oz) dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped into splinters and the Cointreau for coffee liqueur or dark rum and serve with a chocolate sauce made from:-

  • 250ml (1 cup) double (heavy)cream
  • 125g (4 oz) dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp coffee liqueur or dark rum

Heat the cream and chocolate over a gently heat, whisking as the chocolate melts, taking the pan off the heat once the chocolate is almost all melted. If the mixture gets too hot, the chocolate will seize, whereas it will happily continue melting in the warm cream off the heat. Add the liqueur, still off the heat, and whisk again to amalgamate the sauce completely. Pour into a jug, whisking every now and again until it cools to just subtly warm.

3. If chocolatesauce isn’t your thing, serve with a good quality caramel one!

The Musette: spiced rice pudding

If I have a flat full of cyclists, or indeed guests, you’ll generally find a large bowl of home-made rice pudding in my fridge. It’s instant comfort food which can easily double as a quick and nourishing breakfast before a long ride. Pretty much everyone loves it because it evokes fond childhood memories. My husband claims it’s one of the few dishes his mother used to cook well. Frankly I doubt it as, like cigarettes, the outlaw’s cooking carries a government health warning!

I don’t like a skin on my rice pudding. I cook it on the top of the stove and I eat it cold, often with compote of spiced fruit. This particular recipe came about a few summers’ ago when I trained at altitude with some cycling friends who (like me) had sworn off milk, cream and white sugar.

Ingredients (serves eight hungry cyclists)

  • 1 litre (4 cups) rice or oat milk
  • 500ml (2 cups) coconut milk
  • 1 fat vanilla pod, split lengthways
  • 1 medium-sized cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 150g (1 cup) short whole grain pudding rice
  • 3 tbsp of rice or date or maple syrup

Method

1. Warm the milk, vanilla pod and seeds, star anise and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over a low heat until simmering. This helps infuse the flavours.

2. Add the rice which you’ve pre-rinsed under a hot-water tap and continue cooking, stirring from time to time until the rice is tender. I find this takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from the heat.

3. Warning: don’t be put off by the putty-coloured and thick wall-paper paste consistency of the pudding.

4. Gently stir in the coconut milk to restore the pudding to a creamy colour and runny consistency. Add the syrup and the pinch of salt, stir to dissolve and check the sweetness. I do not have an overly sweet tooth, so you may wish to add more syrup, but do so in teaspoons rather than tablespoons.

5. Pour the rice into a serving bowl. Cover the surface with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave to cool. Do not remove any of the flavourings as they will continue to infuse the rice with their heady perfumes. When cool, put in the fridge. The pudding will thicken to the right consistency.

6. To serve, remove from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Remove the flavourings and serve either on its own or with a fruit compote (see recipe below in Sheree’s Handy Hints).

Sheree’s Handy Hints

 1. A more traditional rice pudding can be made in exactly the same fashion by substituting the rice milk with full-fat milk, the coconut milk with single cream, the rice syrup with 6 tbsp of caster sugar and retaining just the fat vanilla pod and seeds for flavouring. I generally work using the proportion of 150g (1 cup) of rice per 1½ litres of liquid (6 cups). Of course, it can be served either hot or cold.

2. I have also made the dessert using almond milk and soya milk but was less keen on the overall taste, preferring to use unsweetened rice or oat milk for the lactose–free version.

3. For a more Spanish take on the dessert, rather than the vanilla pod, use two sticks of cinnamon and a single large piece of lemon zest for flavouring. Serve the pudding cold with a dusting of cinnamon powder.

4. For the spiced plum compote, take 2-3 ripe, juicy black plums, quarter and remove stones. Simmer gently in a saucepan with a star anise and one cinnamon stick in either a few tablespoons of water or some plum vodka – I have a store cupboard full of all manner of alcoholic beverages which only get used for cooking – just until the plums soften and give up their juices. Sweeten as necessary with your sweetener of choice. I will generally use 1 tbsp of runny honey. Serve cold on the side with the rice pudding.

4. I have also served the lactose-free rice pudding recipe above decorated with toasted shredded coconut and with chopped fresh mangoes on the side.

5. There are a few more iterations that I have successfully tried with the traditional milk rice pudding.

  • A sinful adult version with the addition of a handful of raisins soaked in warm rum before the pudding is left to cool.
  • A more child-friendly version with the addition of 200g of dark melted chocolate.  Though, to be honest, plenty of adults enjoyed this too.

The Musette: blueberry and lemon coffee cake

I follow a lot of food blogs, some vegan some not. But they’re all written by passionate cooks whose recipes are tried and tested. I often read about recipes and think: “Oooh, delicious, I must make that sometime.” Then, when sometime occurs, I can’t find the recipe. But, no more. I’ve set up a system whereby I store the addresses of all these fabulous recipes though I doubt I’ll live long enough to make them all!

As soon as I read Diana’s recipe for Blueberry Lemon Quick Bread, I realised that with only one egg in the list of ingredients this would probably work equally well as a vegan version. And, you know what? It did! A big thank you to Diana for the inspiration.

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 195g (11/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 75g (1/3 cup) golden cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp organic lemon zest
  • 180ml (3/4 cup) plant-based milk, I used almond milk
  • 3tbsp aquafaba (or use 1 egg, lightly beaten)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 100g (1 cup) blueberries, I used frozen

Lemon Glaze:

  • 125g (1 cup) icing (powdered) sugar
  • 1-4 tbsp organic lemon juice

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan). Spray the bottom and sides of a 1 litre (9″ x 5″) loaf tin with vegetable oil and line the bottom with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

2. Into a large bowl sift and combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add the lemon zest, sugar and stir well.

3. In a small bowl whisk together the plant-based milk, aquafaba (or egg) and oil.

4. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and combine gently with a spatula using figure of eight movements until there are no dry spots of flour.

5. Add 1tbsp flour to a bowl containing the blueberries and gently mix to coat the berries with the flour. This will prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake. Gently fold the berries into the batter – it should drop off the spatula – and pour into the baking tin. Level the top of the cake with an offset spatula.

6. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.

7. Place the pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes before carefully remove the cake from the tin and placing it back on the cooling rack until completely cool.

8. Meanwhile, make the glaze by combining the icing sugar and lemon juice (1 tbsp at a time) in a small bowl. Add just enough lemon juice so that the mixture is thick but you can still drizzle it from a tablespoon.

9. Drizzle the glaze over the bread, wait for it to set and then enjoy!

10. You can store the cake in an air tight container or cover with cling film (plastic wrap) for 3-4 days but, trust me, it won’t last that long. If you’re going to freeze the cake, don’t add the glaze until you’re ready to eat it.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.

4. You can prepare a non-vegan version of the cake following Diana’s original recipe using a large egg and whole milk.

5. The recipe will work equally well with fresh blueberries but without the additional moisture from the frozen ones, you may need to add a couple of tablespoons of milk or plant-based milk to get the desired dropping consistency.

6. You can use this as the base recipe for a number of mixtures such as strawberries with orange, or raspberries with lemon, plums with clementines, rhubarb with ginger – the possibilities are endless.