Sunday, 23 August 2015

Easy Upside-Down Pear & Almond Cake

A light, almond-scented cake that's best served warm with clouds of whipped cream, and preferably on a Sunday afternoon when the rain is pelting down and Monday's looming like an unwelcome house guest. This doesn't take much effort to make, and to make it even easier, I've used tinned pears. You can, of course, buy fresh pears, peel them and poach them, but why go to all this effort? I'm a huge fan of South African tinned fruit, which in my opinion is of outstanding quality.

Shower your Pear Cake with toasted, flaked almonds & icing sugar.

The first time I tested this recipe I used a sponge-cake formula, but despite its high butter content it was curiously dry. The second time, I went with a lighter, fat-free batter, which puffed up beautifully and was still airy the next day, when the cake had cooled and was dispatched to school and work in various lunchboxes. Another tweak I made to the second version was using double the quantity of tinned pears.

There are four watchpoints in this recipe: first, be sure to line your tin properly with baking paper, to prevent the cake burning and sticking at the edges.  Second, take your time beating the eggs and sugar to the ribbon stage - the mixture should be very pale, thick and fluffy before you add the flour. It's fairly quick to do this if you have an electric whisk or similar appliance, but if you are making this by hand you will need to put in a lot of elbow grease.

Third, don't be tempted to open the oven until about three-quarters of the way through the baking time. After that, you can take the occasional peek.  If you notice that the cake is browning too quickly in certain areas, rotate the tin (I have to do this as my oven has notorious hot spots), and cover it with a loose dome of tin foil.

Finally, don't over-scent your cake. Good almond extract has a powerful flavour, and must be used sparingly.  If you can't find proper extract, and you're using synthetic supermarket essence, I suggest you add a few drops at a time, tasting the mixture as you go.

Easy Upside-Down Pear and Almond Cake

2 x 820 g tins of pear halves
4 large free-range eggs
1½ cups (375 ml) caster sugar
1½ cups (375 ml) cake flour
2 tsp (10 ml) baking powder
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) milk
½ tsp (2.5 ml) almond extract 

For the glaze & topping: 

½ cup (125 ml) reserved pear juice (see recipe)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) smooth apricot jam
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
a handful of toasted almond flakes
whipped cream

Heat the oven to 170° C, fan on, or 180° C if your oven has no fan.

Open the tins of pears and drain the fruit for ten minutes in a colander set over a large bowl.  Reserve the pear juice.

Now prepare your tin. Generously butter the sides and bottom of a non-stick 23-cm springform cake tin. Cut a circle of baking paper to the same size as the base, press it down firmly, and spread a thin film of butter over it. Now cut a long strip of baking paper to roughly the same width as the height of the tin, and use it to line the sides of the tin.  Butter the baking paper.

Neatly arrange the drained pear halves on top of the paper-lined base of the cake tin, cut-side down and narrow ends pointing to the centre. If you like, you can tuck a whole blanched almond into the hollow of each pear  Slice any extra pears in half, lengthways, and arrange them over the top.

Put the eggs and caster sugar into a big bowl and whisk at high speed with a hand-held rotary beater or similar appliance until the mixture has almost doubled in volume and is very pale, thick and fluffy.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt over the egg mixture, and gently stir until everything is well combined. Now stir in the milk and almond essence to create a fairly slack batter.

Pour the mixture all over the pears, and gently shake the pan so the batter penetrates to the bottom of the tin. One sharp tap on the counter will allow any bubbles to escape.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is well risen, firm to the touch, and a wooden skewer pushed into the cake comes out dry.

Paint the warm glaze all over the top of the cake.
While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze. Put 125 ml (half a cup) of the reserved pear juice into a saucepan and cook over a high heat for about 5 minutes, or until it has reduced by half. Now stir in the apricot jam and bubble over a medium heat for another 5 minutes, or until the mixture is syrupy and producing big, lazy bubbles. Add a spritz of lemon juice and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.

When the cake is ready, put the tin on your counter, wait for three minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen it.  Release the spring.

Put a plate on top of the tin, turn it over, then remove the base and carefully peel off the baking paper.

Using a pastry brush, paint the warm glaze all over the top, letting it dribble down the sides of the cake.

Scatter the toasted almonds over the top, sift over a little icing sugar and serve warm, with whipped cream.

Serves 8. 

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Saturday, 15 August 2015

#RealFood For Kids: Low-Carb 'Grannies in Blankets'

This is a new twist on a beloved South African dish: Ouma Onder Die Komberse. Big, juicy meatballs are flavoured with nutmeg, onion and lemon zest, wrapped in soft cabbage ‘blankets’, then baked in a creamy lemon sauce.

The paragraph above comes directly from just-published Real Food: Healthy, Happy Children, by Kath Megaw (Quivertree, 2015), and I'm honoured to have been asked to contribute some of my low-carb recipes to the book.

South African paediatric dietician Kath Megaw is a leading fundi on low-carb and ketogenic diets for children. "Wait!" I hear you cry. "Low carb for kids?" Yes, that's right, but I can assure you that this is not some faddish, irresponsible book leaping onto the banting bandwagon. It's a painstakingly researched, well-informed, sensible guide that advocates a return to real, 'living' food using the wholesome unprocessed ingredients so familiar to our grandparents.

If you're looking to banish sugar, stodge and boxed foods from your family's diet, you've found the only guide you'll ever need, whether you're pregnant, or feeding a baby, or a coping with teens who have hollow legs. If you still need convincing, click here to listen to a podcast of Kath talking about her book, and here to read more about her low-carb philosophy.  

When I first picked up my copy of this hefty 300-page book at last week's launch, I was astonished at how much detailed information is packed between the pages. It's bursting with tips, tricks and accurate nutritional info, with lovely photographs and illustrations adding whimsy along the way. Journalist and cookery writer Daisy Jones, who wrote the text, has a chatty yet precise style, and she's brilliantly conveyed Kath's 20 years of clinical experience in this field.

What's pleased me so much about contributing to this project  is seeing my name on the same line as Phillippa Cheifitz's.  Phillippa, who wrote many of the gorgeous recipes in the book, is one of the grande dames of South African cookery writing, and I have greatly admired her since I cooked my way through her inspiring Cosmopolitan Cookbook in my twenties.

I hauled my tattered, cake-spattered copy of that book to the launch, and my day was complete when Phillippa graciously signed it for me, 29 years after I bought it.

I'm so looking forward to trying the recipes on my own family - specially the mouth-watering treats from the party food section.  (My beloveds feel so deprived of puds these days.)

Nutty Exploding Apples with Vanilla Custard: another of my recipes
from  Real Food: Healthy, Happy Children

Now to the recipe. I've used a Swedish-style creamy sauce to cloak these cabbage-wrapped meatballs, but you could also bake them in a fresh tomato sauce.  Meatballs tend to be a little dense when they don't contain breadcrumbs, but I've found that a big dollop of natural Greek yoghurt helps to tenderise them. This #LCHF recipe is suitable for diabetics.

Low-Carb 'Grannies in Blankets' 

12 outer leaves from a cabbage (or baby savoy leaves)
2 lemons
salt and milled pepper, to taste
1 large onion, peeled
900g beef mince
1 extra-large free-range egg, lightly beaten
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
3 tbsp thick Greek yoghurt
1½ tsp nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 cup cream
4 tbsp finely chopped parsley
butter, for greasing

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan off).
2. Trim away the thick lower ‘ribs’ of the cabbage leaves. Bring a large saucepan of water to a
rolling boil, then add a wedge of lemon and a pinch of salt. Plunge the leaves into the water,
partially cover with a lid and blanch for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the leaves are wilted.
3. Drain (reserving the poaching water), then run the leaves under cold water for 3 minutes and
set aside to drain further.
4. Grate the onion on the fine tooth of a grater to create a soft, juicy pulp. Tip this into a large
mixing bowl and add the mince, egg, garlic, yoghurt, nutmeg and the zest of 1 lemon, plus
seasoning. Combine the mixture well using your hands., then roll the mince into 12 balls, each
about the size of a golf ball.
5. Heat a little olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and brown the meatballs on all sides, in batches,
over a medium-high heat – this should only take a few minutes per side as they should be nicely
caramelised, but still raw on the inside. Set the meatballs aside on a plate.
6. Turn up the heat and add the vinegar, plus half a cup of the cabbage poaching liquid. Let this
mixture bubble vigorously for 3 to 5 minutes, or until it has reduced by half.
7. Remove the pan from the heat, wait a minute, then stir in the cream. Return the pan to a
medium heat and let the sauce bubble for 1 minute, stirring now and then, until it has slightly
thickened. Now stir in the juice of half a lemon and the parsley and set aside.
8. Pat the cabbage leaves very dry on kitchen paper. Tuck a leaf around each meatball and arrange
in a buttered baking dish. Pour the sauce around and over the cabbage parcels and cover the dish
loosely with tin foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the ‘grannies’ are cooked right through.

Serves 4-6 Per serving: energy: 514 kcal protein: 33g fat: 39g carbs: 7g ratio: 1.0 :1

Recipe courtesy of Quivertree Publications

More of my meatball recipes:

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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Nougat and Ice Cream Cake with Hot Raspberry Sauce

Here is a lovely family recipe that takes all the hassle out of preparing a hot-weather festive dessert. You can make this easy ice cream cake a day or two - or four! - in advance, and I promise your friends and relatives will love it.

Nougat and Ice Cream Cake with Hot Raspberry Sauce. Photograph by
Michael Le Grange, courtesy Random House Struik 

This recipe first appeared in my 2012 cookbook, and it was inspired by my aunt Gilly Walters, the wizardess who started Wedgewood Nougat in her home kitchen many years ago.  

Gilly is hands-down the best home cook I've ever met. Her exquisite food has inspired and delighted me for over 45 years, ever since I sat down at her table as a child, and scoffed myself sick on her feather-light scones.

These days, Wedgewood is a thriving enterprise exporting its nougat and heavenly biccies all over the world.  These are still made by hand in a hi-tech factory in the Natal Midlands, and the business - a model of social responsibility - is managed by my three cousins, brothers Jon, Steve and Paul Walters.

Cook's Notes:

  • Please choose a proper dairy ice cream for this cake, not the frozen ‘desserts’ that pass for vanilla ice cream. 
  • After you've taken it out of the freezer, let the cake stand at room temperature for 5–10 minutes, or until just soft enough to slice with a knife you've dipped in very hot water. 
  • How much lemon juice and icing sugar you add to the raspberry sauce will depend on how tart or sweet they are to begin with; adjust as necessary.
  • If you're making the ice cream cake a few days ahead, wrap it tightly in clingfilm so it doesn't pick up any whiff of freezer. 
  • As I mentioned in the original intro to the recipe (see below) you can add other goodies of your choice to the mixture.  I can recommend finely chopped dark chocolate, and a few drops of good almond extract

Nougat and Ice Cream Cake with Hot Raspberry Sauce

'My aunt Gilly Walters, a superlative cook and the inventive brain behind one of South Africa’s best-loved nougats, showed me this method of adding whipped cream and chopped frozen nougat to good shop-bought vanilla ice cream. What I love about ice-cream cakes like this is that they look spectacular and are so versatile: you can add anything that takes your fancy to the mix – chopped dark chocolate, nuts, liqueur, and so on.'

For the biscuit crust:

1 x 200 g packet shortbread biscuits
6 Tbsp (90 ml/90 g) very soft butter

For the filling and sauce:

2 litres full-cream vanilla ice cream
1 x 110 g bar nutty nougat, frozen solid
10 Romany Creams, or similar chocolate biscuit
1 cup (250 ml, or 1 x 250 ml tub) fresh cream
3 cups (750 ml) frozen raspberries
about 3 Tbsp (45 ml) icing sugar (see my Cook's Notes above)
a little lemon juice

Take the ice cream out of the freezer and let it soften slightly.

In the meantime,  make the crust. Whizz the shortbread biscuits to a fairly fine crumb in a food processor. Place in a bowl, add the soft butter and stir well to combine. Wet the base of a non-stick 24-cm springform cake pan and cover with clingfilm. Tuck the edges of the plastic under the base, pulling it quite tight as you fasten it in the ring. Press the biscuit mixture evenly onto the lined base and refrigerate it while you making the filling.

Using a heavy knife, chop the frozen nougat bar into pea-size pieces and cut the chocolate biscuits into big chunks.

Whip the cream to a soft peak in a large bowl and, working quickly so the mixture doesn’t melt, fold in the slightly softened ice cream, nougat, biscuits and half the frozen raspberries.

Tip the mixture over the crumb crust and, using a spatula, swirl the top into generous waves and ripples. Cover and freeze.

Put the remaining raspberries, the icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice (see my notes above) in a small pan, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using a stick blender or food processor, whizz to a purée.

Strain the sauce if you’d like it fine, or leave it slightly rough. Set aside to reheat later.

Loosen the edges of the ice cream cake by briefly pressing a hot kitchen cloth against the sides.

Slip a spatula or palette knife between the crumb base and the clingfilm and loosen it by using gentle levering movements, turning the pan as you go. Slide the cake onto a plate or cake stand, leaving the base and clingfilm behind.

Cut the cake into slices using a knife dipped in boiling water. Reheat the raspberry sauce and serve separately, in a pretty jug.  Or you can leave the cake whole, and pour the hot sauce all over the top, as shown in the picture above.

Makes 1 x 24 cm 'cake'; serves 8-10.

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Low-Carb Silken Chicken-Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns

If you're looking for a brilliant snack to serve friends and family over the festive season, try this velvety chicken liver pâté with green peppercorns.  My formula is the culmination of many years of making retro party pâtés, and I hope this easy, inexpensive dish will knock the socks off your guests. (Scroll to the end of this page for links to more of my potted pleasures).

My Low-Carb, Silken Chicken Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns. 

Wine recommendation from Michael Olivier: He says: "Leopard's Leap Culinaria Muscat de Frontignan Collection 2013, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes from Robertson. A sweet wine goes very well with paté."

It looks like: Elegant packaging. The wine is pale salmon in colour. 

It smells like: Rose petals and Turkish Delight.

 It tastes like: Rich and sweet grapiness. Though not cloying in its sweetness. Percent balance of beautiful aromas, luscious sappy fruits, good counterbalancing acidity and a long gently waning aftertaste with an undertow of rose geranium.

I can't bear gritty, greyish chicken-liver pâtés: for me even to consider eating liver (shudder), the mixture must be very smooth and fine, with a complex flavour, a boozy undertone and a slight rosy blush on the inside. I've added Madagascan green peppercorns to this recipe because I love the way the way their peppery pop surprises your tongue and adds lovely contrast to the richness of the livers.

There are two important watchpoints here: Don't overcook the livers - a gentle pinkness as you cut into the pâté is essential - and do strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any gristle and ensure a silken result. The clarified butter topping isn't essential to seal the top of the pâté, but it looks so pretty, with its scattering of both crunchy pink peppercorns and brined green ones.

This recipe is low in carbohydrates and suitable for diabetics. If you're on a #LCHF regime, I suggest you serve it with slim discs of cucumber or crisp celery sticks, or caperberries, as shown in the picture above. If you're not banting, serve this with slices of fresh baguette or Melba toast.

Low-Carb Silken Chicken-Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns 

500 g chicken livers, thawed
150 g (150 ml) salted butter
a small onion or two shallots, peeled and very finely chopped
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 Tbsp (30 ml) brandy, plus an extra teaspoon
2 Tbsp (30 ml) cream
4 tsp (20 ml) brined green peppercorns
a grating of whole nutmeg
salt and milled black pepper, to taste

To top:

50 g (50 ml) salted butter
a few green peppercorns
a few red peppercorns
a sprig of thyme

Trim any gristle or unpleasant-looking bits off the chicken livers, rinse under cold water and drain for 10 minutes in a colander.  Pat them dry on kitchen paper. If they are of unequal size, cut the biggest ones in half.

Melt 100 g of the butter in a large frying pan, over a medium heat, and add the onion and thyme sprig. Cook gently for 4-5 minutes, until the onion bits are soft. Don't allow the onions to brown  - they must seethe happily in their bath of golden butter, without catching. When the butter begins to turn a rich golden-brown at the edges of the pan, add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

Now turn the heat right up and tip in all the chicken livers. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, turning them over now and then. The butter should bubble enthusiastically, and the livers must must take on a little colour, while remaining pink in the middles. To check, cut the biggest piece in half - it should be rosy, but not raw, on the inside.  Remove the livers with a slotted spoon and put them in a blender.

Add the brandy to the pan - stand back, in case it ignites - and bubble furiously for a minute or two, or until the alcohol has burned off and the liquid has reduced by about half. Remove the thyme sprig and pour the hot pan juices into the liquidizer.

Put the cream, the remaining 50 g butter and 1 tsp brandy (to taste; you might want to add a little more) into the goblet, and blitz to a smooth pureé.

Put a fine sieve over a bowl and tip the warm mixture into it.  Strain it through the sieve by pressing down on the mixture with the back of a large spoon.

Stir in the green peppercorns and a little freshly grated nutmeg, to taste.  Season with salt and black pepper. Let the mixture cool to for a 5-10 minutes (this is to prevent the peppercorns sinking to the bottom), stir well, then pour into a clean pâté dish. Smooth the top to as level as you can get it.

Scatter over a few more green peppercorns, and some pink peppercorns if you fancy those, and lightly press a sprig of thyme to the centre. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 2 hours.

To prepare the clarified butter, melt 50 g butter in a pan or your microwave.  Place a new or laundered cloth (a dishcloth like this is perfect) in a sieve, and pour the butter through the sieve over the pâté, to form an even layer.

Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Serve with crackers and pickles.

Serves 6 as a snack or starter.

Like this recipe? Try some of my other potted pleasures:

Potted Pork Shoulder with Green Peppercorns

Easy Duck Rillettes

Potted Pork Belly with Mace & Pepper

Old-Fashioned Potted Salmon or Trout

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