Saturday, May 28, 2011

New York cheesecake

I have an amazingly useful Reader's Digest book called CLASSIC FAVOURITES. I say "amazingly" because the book is where I go for every classic recipe, yet appears to be only a slim hardback, at 200 pages.

Finding the recipe and having the ingredients to hand are different matters. So I had to substitute certain ingredients in this New York cheesecake (which the book calls "American cheesecake"). I've marked the heretical ingredients with asterisks, and commented on the RD version below. My method is slightly different, too.

150g digestive biscuits
50g butter*

300g ricotta
200g cream cheese**
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
125ml double cream***
2tbsp flour
1tsp vanilla essence
1tsp grated lemon rind (the rind from 1 lemon, roughly)

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a very low heat, and mix in the digestive crumbs.

Spread a little butter on the base of a 24cm cake tin, and place a circle of greaseproof paper on top. (Draw a ring on the paper round the base, and cut along it.) Tip in the crumbs, spread them out, and compact them with the back of a spoon. Put the tin in the fridge for a couple of hours, RD says; I put mine in the freezer.

Blend the cheeses. Beat in the sugar and egg yolks. Stir in the cream (I whipped mine first, until it had started to thicken), flour, vanilla essence and lemon rind. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry (advice here), and fold them gently into the mixture. Pour the mixture on to the crust in the cake tin. Spread smooth.

Put the tin on to a baking sheet (an aid to even heat transmission, some books say), and bake in the centre of a gas mark 4/180C oven for one hour. My cheesecake took an hour and 10 minutes, by which time it was only very slightly wobbly in the centre.

Allow the cake to cool (the picture shows it still in its tin). Then chill it in the fridge. When it's properly chilled, release it from the tin.

The RD cheesecake has a very sweet topping, made from black cherries in syrup, cornflour, lemon juice, and caster sugar. Not my thing.

* RD suggests 200g digestives, so you have enough crumb to spread up the sides of the tin. I'd be likely to make a mess of that job. I've left out the 2tbsp of caster sugar that the book includes in the crumb mix. It suggests 100g butter; but I've come to think that a ratio of 1/3 butter to digestives works fine.

** The recipe has 250g cottage cheese and 250g cream cheese; or 500g cream cheese. Cottage cheese might give a lighter filling.

*** I was disappointed not to have sour cream. I would definitely use that (or creme fraiche) next time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Victoria sponge

Geraldene Holt's CAKES, from Tom Jaine's Prospect Books, is a lovely book, its loveliness uncompromised by a lack of pictures. Many glossily produced works will fall into disuse while this handsome, authoritative, wide-ranging paperback endures as a kitchen bible.

Here is Holt's recipe for Victoria sponge.

175g butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
1/4tsp vanilla essence
175g self-raising flour

Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating them in well. Mix in the vanilla essence. Gradually fold in the flour, sifted. Divide the mixture between two 20cm cake tins, and smooth level.

Put the tins on to a baking sheet, and bake in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 4/180C for 30 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and just starting to shrink from the tins. Cool in the tins for 2 minutes; turn out to cool on a wire rack. Spread the filling of your choice on to one of the cakes, and make a sandwich.

Holt advises that you use the base of the tins to draw circles on greaseproof paper. You cut out the discs, butter the bases of the tins, and put the paper on top. You grease the sides of the tins with clarified butter - the solids in unclarified butter, she says, can cause cakes to stick. Not being bothered to prepare clarified butter, I used sunflower oil, spreading it on the tins with a paper towel.

I had one springform tin, and one receptacle made of some rubbery substance, and borrowed from a neighbour. The rubbery version worked fine.

I had no vanilla essence, being able to find only inferior vanilla flavouring (one bottle was sneakily labelled "vanilla flavouring essence") in the shops. I flavoured my sponge with the zest of a whole lemon.

I do not have an electric hand beater, which is supposed to ease the creaming process. I started off by crushing the ingredients with a spoon, and then had a go at them with an electric stick blender. It immediately got clogged, of course. But I think that it did help me to produce a lighter mixture.

Is it necessary to add the eggs gradually to the creamed butter and sugar? You're trying to prevent curdelling. But the flour will do that. I simply chucked in the eggs and the flour all at once. I got a sticky batter. Nigella Lawson (whose version in HOW TO EAT has 225g of butter, sugar and flour (of each of them, that is), with four eggs) says that you want a pouring consistency, and suggests that you add a little milk. But my cakes were spongy enough, I thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lamb stew with aubergines and turnips

Ideally, one should add vegetables to a stew to give them just enough time in which to cook. Incorporating them at the start is a bad idea, because they will be overcooked before the meat is ready. But you cannot be confident of the optimum timing with the aubergines and turnips in this dish. One hour worked for me; but I needed to fiddle around with temperature settings, and to give the stew regular stirs, to ensure that the pot continued simmering and that the vegetables softened evenly.

(I know that carrots are a standard ingredient of many stews, but I don't like using them in this way. Overcooked, as they usually are, they lose all flavour. The exceptions are baby carrots cooked whole in a dish such as poule au pot or bollito misto.)

For 4

750g stewing lamb (I used pieces of middle neck)
Sunflower oil
2 red onions, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
1 bay leaf
200ml chicken stock
1 large aubergine, cubed
4 small turnips, peeled and sliced, or cut into chunks if you prefer

Coat the lamb in a little sunflower oil, salt it, and brown it quickly on a ridged grill pan (or in a heavy frying pan) over a high heat. Remove to a plate.

Put 2tbsps sunflower oil over a low to medium heat, and soften the onion for 10 minutes or so. Throw in the garlic cloves and bay leaf, and pour in the stock. Put the lamb pieces into the stew. You'll find that the liquid comes about half way up the meat; but after the pot has been in the oven for an hour or so, the meat will probably be submerged. Add more salt, if you like.

I put this dish into the oven for three and a half hours at gas mark S/130C. That setting will cause a stew in my Le Creuset pot to simmer gently. But your oven, and pot, may behave differently.

Stir in the aubergine and turnips with about an hour to go, and bring the stew to a simmering point before returning it to the oven. Turn up the dial temporarily to gas mark 6/200C, until the stew is simmering again - you may be surprised to find, if you have a heavy pot, that even at this setting the stew make take 20 minutes or longer to return to simmering point. Return to gas mark S. Check the ingredients at intervals, stirring them.

I served the stew, with its generous quantity of sauce, in bowls with couscous. So I might have spiced it (along the lines of this version), had there not been objectors to spicy food at the table. For myself, I mixed some of the sauce with harissa.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Chicken salad with yoghurt and pesto

I am not keen on the flavour of bottled pesto, finding it assertively sharp, with the dusty quality of dried herbs. But used in moderation, with other ingredients, it can offer some zing. New potatoes tossed with mayonnaise and no more than a tsp (for four people) of pesto are very nice. Or there's this simple chicken salad, a change from coronation chicken and much quicker to make.

For four people, I poached eight chicken thighs in water in a covered pan for 75 minutes. (I put onion and peppercorns in the poaching water, and kept it for stock.) I shredded the chicken, and allowed it to cool.

I mixed 1 heaped tbsp of Greek yoghurt, 1 heaped tbsp of (bottled) mayonnaise, 1 tsp of pesto, a clove of crushed garlic, some salt, and a squirt of lemon juice. I tossed the chicken in this mixture.