Pear and plum crumble

December 25, 2009 § 3 Comments

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you all have a wonderful time – eat plenty, drink to your fill and enjoy the presents (and the company)! Winter’s the best season for food, as you find that the majority of winter dishes are a culmination of rich flavours, drawn out from slow-cooking or comforting combinations that never fail to hit the spot. One of my favourite winter dishes is pear and plum crumble, a deviation from the usual apple crumble that is perhaps more suited to the autumn season.

The variations of pears and plums that you can find are endless. Plums are especially flexible, as they warm up most winter desserts, but the first bite into a ripe plum can take you back to late summer afternoons. The different varieties you might find at your local store may include Fortune plums, which are burgundy from the outside, with yellow flesh (these are probably the most common variants you could use for this recipe), to Black Diamond plums which have dark red skin and plump red flesh.

Most plums will have a juicy, sweet flavour once they have ripened, and it is at this point that they are perfect for putting into a crumble. With pears, I tend to be more picky about which pears I will use in this crumble. Taking pink and red as the theme of the dish, Blush pears are the best variant to use as their sweet flesh is soft and blends well with the plums while the crumble is baking. Alternatively, Red Williams pears, when ripe, can be equally delicious in this dish.

The crumble itself is a wonderful comfort food that doesn’t have to be limited to the winter season, but it is especially warming when it’s chilly and miserable outdoors. Using dark soft brown sugar imparts a touch of a treacle-like taste to the topping, which caramelises and blends with the fruit juices to create a warming and satisfying dish. You will need:

  • 200g plain flour, sifted
  • a pinch of salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 200g dark soft brown sugar
  • 450g plums, stoned
  • 4 ripe blush pears, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp water
  • a handful of rolled oats

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Sift the flour and pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl, add the cubed butter and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. If the dough starts clumping together, just use your fingertips to break larger pieces apart. Add 150g of the dark soft brown sugar and the handful of rolled oats to the mixture and combine well.

Quarter your plums in order to stone them, and then slice each quarter in half. Set these aside. Thinly slice the pear (you can peel the pears if you really want to, but I like to keep the skin on). Measure out 50g of the dark soft brown sugar into a large mixing bowl and add 3 tbsp of cold water to it, mixing well to produce a dark brown sugar syrup. Mix together the fruits and the sugar syrup, gently, ensuring even coverage.

Tip the fruit mixture into a buttered dish; a 9-inch baking dish will do. Then sprinkle over the topping evenly. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until golden.

A deliciously comforting dessert that can be eaten for breakfast, as a quick snack, or a treat after dinner. Best served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or a little poured double cream.


Pandan cupcakes with coconut snow frosting

December 13, 2009 § 3 Comments

Christmas with a tropical twist – I’ve never been a fan of cold weather, and as deranged as I might sound I actually don’t like snow very much… it’s cold, wet and makes my fingers go numb. I’ll stop being a wet blanket now and tell you about this lovely treat that brings a little Christmas spirit to your tummy, as well as some tropical island flavours!

Recently I made some pandan tea, which was a lovely warming drink, but I’d been itching to make pandan cake since I got back from Tioman which is over a year and a half ago! That’s a long time to crave cake. However, as simple as it was to make the tea, pandan cupcakes are not as straightforward as adding the leaves to the cupcake mixture.

Additionally, pandan is usually incorporated into chiffon cake, which is a very light, airy sponge cake that needs a special chiffon cake tin (it has a hole in the middle to help the circulation of heat in the cake to give it that wonderful fluffy consistency). So, it seemed as though pandan cupcakes might not be possible at all! However, considering pandan is heralded the ‘Eastern alternative to vanilla’, by extracting the pandan essence from the leaves, we might be onto something…

As it happens, you need to use both vanilla essence and pandan essence to flavour these cupcakes, but the general base of the cupcakes is very similar to the Earl Grey cupcakes recipe. To make around 20 odd cupcakes you will need:

  • 120g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 210g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 pandan leaves
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1¼ tsp baking powder
  • 150 whole milk

Start off by preheating your oven to 190°C, grease and line a cupcake tray and set it aside. Sift the flour and baking powder into a separate bowl to add to the cake mixture in a little while.

It’s time to extract your pandan essence. This sounds complicated but it’s fairly easy as long as you have a food processor, otherwise you’ll be slaving over a pestle and mortar for quite a while and that’s not really very practical. So set up your food processor, snip the pandan leaves into the top in about 2cm strips, put the lid on the food processor and blend just until shredded finely. You then scoop out the shredded leaves and with just a tiny splash of water to get the juices flowing, squeeze the leaves through a sieve to extract the pandan essence which will be a beautiful shade of green. Set this aside.

In your main mixing bowl, cream the butter and the sugar together and then add the egg, beating the mixture until smooth.

At this point you add the pandan and vanilla essence to the beaten mixture and combine well to give you a very lightly tinted mixture.

Add half the flour mixture to the batter and mix until just combined, then alternate with adding milk and flour (ending on the dry ingredients) until the batter is smooth and blended. Fill the cupcake cases with the batter and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

While the cupcakes are baking in the oven you can prepare your coconut snow frosting. You will need:

  • 3 heaped tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp cold water

Mix the sugar and coconut together and then spoon over the cold water. Beat the frosting until smooth and translucent with a dripping consistency.

Once you’ve taken the cupcakes out of the oven let them cool for a little while, then drop a spoonful of the coconut frosting onto each cupcake until the coconut resembles snowflakes! The coconut complements the pandan brilliantly (most Malaysian desserts combine the two flavours), and the decoration befits the season quite well, I think.

Macaroni cheese with broccoli

December 12, 2009 § 4 Comments

I apologise for the infrequent posting, it’s been a busy few weeks with interviews and driving lessons, so I haven’t been able to spend much time in the kitchen! I only have a tidbit for now, but I promise there will be some exciting pandan-inspired recipes and cakey goodness coming up to grace your screens.

Mac and cheese is an alltime favourite comfort food – beautifully simple, yet filling and satisfying. You can’t go wrong with mac and cheese, however you can add more food groups to it to make it a tad healthier than the usual cheese and carbs fare. Broccoli is one of those vegetables which is a hidden gem – you spend your childhood hating it because you’re forced to eat it and then suddenly you discover it when you’re in your teens (or as a young adult) and it opens up a wholly new culinary world to you.

Okay, perhaps I’m glamourising broccoli too much, but it’s definitely a versatile ingredient. You can pair it with creamy sauces, or throw it into a stir-fry or just steam it and melt some butter over it, and it will always accompany a dish wonderfully. Not only that, it’s rich in Vitamin C and A as well as containing a high amount of dietary fibre. Apparently it’s useful for prevention of heart disease too… although I think the amount of cheese you use for this dish may possibly cancel that out…

So lets get right to it. You’ll need:

  • 450-500g dried macaroni
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 150g cheddar cheese (I used mature cheddar cheese but if you don’t want a very strong cheese taste feel free to use milder cheeses)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • about 200ml whole milk
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp tarragon
  • A pinch of crushed chilli flakes
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 100g breadcrumbs

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Bring a large pan of water to boil, add salt and a drizzle of olive oil, then add the macaroni and leave to boil for 12-15 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally to loosen pieces sticking to the bottom of the pan. Drain well once cooked through. In a separate pan, boil the broccoli florets in salted water, or use a steamer like I did, putting it in the microwave for around 5 minutes until just tender.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan and add the onion and garlic when bubbling. Fry gently for 3-4 minutes, then add the flour and stir vigorously for 1 minute until you form a paste. Reduce to a medium heat, then pour in the milk gradually, stirring gently to combine the paste with the milk to form a smooth sauce. You’ll need to stir the sauce for about 10 minutes, or until it begins to thicken.

Once the béchamel sauce has just about begun to thicken, add the mustard, nutmeg, chilli flakes and tarragon and combine. Sprinkle in about 50g of the cheese and stir until melted – you can add a little more cheese if you want a stronger taste but keep  in mind that extra cheese will thicken your sauce more. Add the steamed/boiled and drained broccoli, mix well and season to taste.

Add your drained macaroni to the cheese sauce and mix well to ensure the pasta is thoroughly coated. Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top. Now sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top so that you can form a golden crust on top of the macaroni. Season with black pepper, and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top os golden. Stand for 5 minutes then serve with a salad if desired.

I can guarantee this dish will warm you up, cheer you up and pick you up on a cold winter’s night, as well as giving you one of your five-a-day!

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