Sunday, May 27, 2012

Katherine Hepburn's chocolate brownies

Yes, this recipe is ascribed to THE Katherine Hepburn, the one who, as pub quiz enthusiasts may know, won a record four Best Actress Oscars. At first sight, it appears to have far too little chocolate, and a surprisingly modest amount of flour. But it produces delicious, fudgy results, albeit - as you can see - somewhat crumbly ones.

The espresso that I included features in only one online version, and may not be canonical.

50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more)
120g butter
200g sugar (I used caster; some recipes specify granulated)
1tsp vanilla essence
2tbsp brewed espresso coffee
2 eggs, beaten
45g plain flour
Pinch of salt
Handful of chopped walnuts (optional)

In a small saucepan, melt the chocolate and butter over a very gentle heat, stirring all the time. Take the pan off the heat as soon as you think the mixture is hot enough to melt any remaining solids.

Pour the chocolate mixture over the sugar in a bowl, and stir, adding the vanilla and espresso. Stir in the eggs, flour, salt, and walnuts, if using. (I am not sure why you need the salt. It does promote the development of gluten, so may help the brownies to cohere – but perhaps not in this small amount.)

You’re supposed to bake the mixture (at 170C), which is almost alarmingly runny, in a lined (with greaseproof paper), 8” (20cm), square tin. I had only a round, 23cm tin, and my brownies were too thin. They took about 40 minutes.

Bee Wilson: Please, less chocolate in my brownies! (Telegraph)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Spaghetti carbonara

Felicity Cloake's instructions on "How to cook the perfect spaghetti carbonara" look pretty good to me. My version has only slight differences - matters of preference rather than disagreement.

I'd use just two eggs, not bothering with the extra yoke. And I'd probably use a bit more pancetta, because I like it so much.

I'd put just a tiny bit of oil in a pan, and fry the pancetta with the clove of garlic, cut in half; I'd fish out the garlic later. The point is not to have to start with a tbsp of oil, because the pancetta will give off a lot of fat of its own.

If the pancetta is cooked before your pasta is ready, turn off the heat. But turn it back on again as you're about to drain the pasta. Toss the pasta and the pancetta in the hot pan, and turn off the heat again. The contents should be able to curdle the eggs, but not so hot that they stick.

I prefer to keep the eggs and the cheese separate. Tip the eggs over the spaghetti and pancetta, toss until the strands of pasta are coated with curdled egg, and then toss with the cheese.

I like the idea of taking a cup of cooking water from the pasta pan. I've always kept some of the water by draining the pasta over the pan. But it's easier to control the quantity if you pour from a cup - an important advantage when all you need is just enough to loosen the texture.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Guardian blog

"The great recipe swindle", the headline on this blog I wrote for the Guardian, may be putting my argument a bit strongly. Still, the piece attracted more than 200 comments. Very few of them gave me a hard time: considering the overheated atmosphere that can prevail in such fora, I feel that I got away unscathed.

Perhaps it was my good luck that many of the posters ended up arguing with each other, particularly about how to cook rice. It is a subject that I have explored somewhat obsessively here, as the link on the right demonstrates.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Don't Sweat the Aubergine - pastry

A third and final extract from the new edition of my book Don't Sweat the Aubergine.


The first edition of this book contained no recipe for pastry. The reason for the omission was personal: I am hopeless at making it. I did not feel that I could, in good faith, offer advice on the subject.
I am not dextrous. My efforts at woodwork at school were a jumble of ill-fitting joints, and my Airfix models were encrusted with surplus glue and misapplied paint. Today, I am incapable of wrapping a present without scrunching up the paper, or of folding a shirt without leaving it in need of another go with the iron. And I cannot rub fat into flour efficiently. When I try to roll pastry, I always get it stuck to the rolling pin and to the table, and end up with an uneven, glutenous slab with holes and ragged edges.

I can still make a tart, though. A food processor does the work of my incompetent fingers (though the machine has potential disadvantages – see below), and, leaving the rolling pin in its drawer, I simply spread the dough (as recommended by Elizabeth David), or grate it (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall).

(For a 23cm tin)
140g plain flour
70g butter
About 2tbsp iced water

Cut the butter into small pieces, and put it back into the fridge for 30 minutes. You could put the flour in its bowl there too.1 – see why you do it

Tip the flour and butter into a food processor. On a medium speed, whizz the ingredients, in short bursts, until the butter is blended and the mixture has the consistency of breadcrumbs.2 (Or, if you prefer, carry out this process with your fingertips.)

Tip this mixture back into the chilled bowl in which you had held the flour. 1tbsp at a time, sprinkle over the water, lifting and blending the mixture gently until it coheres; or stir it into shape gently with a knife.3 Put it back into the fridge, wrapped in clingfilm if you want to protect it from the odours of other foods, for another 30 minutes.4

A loose-bottomed tin will enable you to transfer the cooked tart to a plate. Grease it with a little olive or vegetable oil – the solids in butter can cause sticking. Spread the pastry by hand over the bottom and sides of the tin; or grate it into the tin, and smooth it out.

Prick the pastry with a fork, lay foil or kitchen paper on top, and weigh down this covering – with baking beans, or with uncooked rice, or, as I do, with another tin of the same size. Cook the pastry “blind” (without a filling) in a gas mark 6/200°C oven for 15 minutes; remove the weight and the foil or paper, and continue to cook until the pastry loses all tackiness. Now it is ready for your filling.5

Why you do it
1) Cold ingredients. The trick in pastry-making is to minimise the creation of gluten - the rubbery, tough protein that forms when molecules in starch granules bond, with the help of water. “Shortening” – a fat such as butter or lard – coats the grains of flour, repels water, and inhibits these chains of molecules from forming. A low temperature also inhibits gluten formation. The recipe includes no salt, you’ll notice: salt “greatly strengthens the gluten network”, Harold McGee warns.

2) Machine or hand? I use the machine, because I tend to botch the hand-rubbing. But it has drawbacks. The vigorous beating can cause the water in the butter to hydrate the starch, creating gluten, as can the heating of the rapidly whirring blade. I try to minimise these effects by using the motor in short bursts. Lard, if you’d like to use it, has a lower water content.

3) Adding the water gradually, and gently. This is a delicate stage of the process: you’re introducing an ingredient that will cause gluten to form if handled insensitively. Do not pour water through the spout of the processor. As the ball coheres, it will be kneaded by the blade. Kneading is fine for bread, but not for pastry.

4) Resting. Even with your delicate handling, the dough has developed some lengthier protein molecules. During the next 30 minutes or so, they will relax.

5) Blind baking. Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book is a wonderful work, but offers bad advice in suggesting you pour your tart filling into a case of raw dough. You end up with a soggy crust. When baking blind, you prick the pastry and weigh it down because it can buckle as the water in it steams.