Summer fruit gratin

Nectarine gratin

I stumbled across this recipe on the web somewhere as I was looking at a large punnet of nectarines that needed using. Perfect. It’s very substantial, bread and butter pudding like at the bottom, fruity in the middle, with a creamy top layer that’s slightly crispy on top. I used nectarines but it would work with almost any type of fruit — plums, apricots, peaches, maybe apples or pears too.
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Mirlitons de Rouen

Little almond cakes, the word mirliton described by Jane Grigson as suggesting “a cheerful twirling of skirts and light feet”. The filling is very similar to the classic filling for a Bakewell tart (as opposed to pudding). I used a recipe from Audrey Le Goff’s Rustic French Cooking Made Easy, which is a nice collection of traditional regional dishes, changing it somewhat to suit me. The original uses ready-made puff pastry, but the reason I made these is because I had some leftover sweet shortcrust. Either will work, although I’m not keen on puff pastry as a tart base personally. If you want to make pastry for them, I can recommend the recipe here. I chose to use some wild cherry jam as that goes well with almonds, but any good jam will work — raspberry, strawberry, apricot …
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Vintage Feast: Fine English Cookery by Michael Smith


Locked down and with not much to do except cook, I decided to revive my neglected “neglected cookbooks” series with Michael Smith’s Fine English Cookery, published in 1973. Mine’s a paperback reissue from 1998.

Long post, but comes with a recipe worth trying at the end, so scroll on if you just want that!

Michael Smith was a trained chef and restaurateur who was also a broadcaster. His book, while clearly treading the same ground as Jane Grigson’s great English Food, is a reflection of that. Jane herself wrote, “Of the many books on our food, his is my favourite, the one I use most.” Yet the two books have surprisingly few dishes in common, since Smith’s is biased towards restaurant food or at least dishes aimed more at dinner parties than family meals. He does draw on historical recipes, from the eighteenth century onwards but yes, this book reflects how the British middle classes ate and entertained in the 1970s!

The book has a simple structure: soups, “a medley of savoury and vegetable dishes”, principal dishes, puddings, sauces, salads. The soup chapter starts, to my surprise, with a chilled almond soup which immediately makes me think of the Spanish ajo blanco. No garlic or olive oil in this though; it’s simply chicken stock, flaked almonds, nut oil, and cream, thickened with flour. The puddings chapter is rather special too, with some delicious sounding baked puddings and tarts and, of course, a proper recipe for sherry trifle (no jelly).

In a spirit of adventure, I browsed the more unusual soups. Mushroom and mustard soup sounds interesting. But I was stopped in my tracks by chilled pineapple and curry soup. Curiosity got the better of me. It specified a fresh pineapple, but I was not about to waste one by cooking it in chicken stock and liquidising it, so I bought a tin. Other ingredients: curry powder, mango chutney, courgettes, onions, lemon juice. Served with cream swirled into it.

Verdict: it looked like snot. And the taste was pretty strange, flavours battling each other. It wasn’t disgusting, but I certainly won’t be making it again.

Main course: beef olives. I haven’t made these for decades. In the past I used an Italian recipe, with a stuffing featuring lemon zest, pine nuts, and sultanas, and a sumptuous slow-cooked tomato-based sauce. This version had a thoroughly English stuffing: yes, lemon zest featured, but with breadcrumbs, butter, and cooked ham. The sauce was a triumph though; rich with mushrooms, carrots, red wine and port. The only thing wrong with it was that there wasn’t enough of it. I’d halved the recipe but I think I should have made the full quantity of sauce. I have to say it deserves its reputation as a classic dinner party dish: yes, it’s a bit of a faff but it can be prepared entirely in advance, and it looks so much posher than a stew with the same ingredients would. I think the Italian version is superior though.

Pudding: I decided to try Maids of Honour, little tarts allegedly enjoyed by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in Richmond. I believe the traditional version of these tarts has curd cheese in it. This one doesn’t; the filling is basically frangipane, similar to Bakewell tart, with a layer of quince jelly in the bottom. They were delicious, albeit too sweet; I’ll reduce the sugar next time. A flaky, crisp pastry case, filling that’s squidgy in the middle (possibly a bit underbaked) and crisp around the edges. Of the recipes I’ve tried from this book, this is the only one I’d make again. Good enough to serve to guests: recipe below.

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Fresh fig tart with ginger custard

Fig tart

Still dealing with the glut of figs. I had a little pastry left over from my last tart, and I was passed a recipe from Delicious magazine for this variation, so I adapted it to what I had. Notably, instead of making one huge tart, I made two individual tartlets as that’s all I had pastry for. This used, erm, four figs. Here I’ve adjusted quantities to make a normal-sized (20 cm) single tart, but the individual ones are very pretty. The combination of frangipane and figs is good, and I loved the ginger custard. It would go with a lot of other dishes too. The recipe suggests serving it warm, but I did it French-style, room-temperature tart with chilled custard.

You can use the pastry recipe here. It makes enough for at least two tarts, so I always split it in two and put one half in the freezer, saving time next time I want to make a sweet tart.

Planning: there are several different elements, but you can make the pastry, frangipane, and even the custard a day ahead and store them in the fridge. Remove pastry at least half an hour before trying to roll it out.
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Tarta de aguacate: avocado cheesecake

Tarta de aguacate
We had this “house special” dessert in a restaurant on Spain’s Costa Tropical, famed for its avocado orchards, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to try and reproduce it at home. First I googled in Spanish and found quite a few recipes that would clearly have similar results. I ended up using them to provide the basic idea for the ingredients, and determining quantities and method for myself. I had thought it would need gelatine, and believed there was some in the restaurant version, but decided to try first without. And funnily enough it worked just fine, and set well after a few hours in the fridge. Just as well, as I next served it to vegetarians. It has a lovely fresh lime flavour and a pretty pale green colour, so it’s well suited to entertaining guests. You could serve it with a scoop of sorbet or ice cream on the side, but it’s fine without. One recipe showed it garnished with strawberries, which could be nice too.

It’s a really good way of using avocados that are so ripe as not to be suitable for salad; they need to be soft enough to be easily mashed. Very quick to make, no cooking required, but it does need time to chill. Also note that it won’t go brown as avocados do when exposed to the air, because of the lime juice.
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Bread and orange curd pudding

This is just a variation on bread and butter pudding, created because I had brioche and some home-made curd that needed using up. In my case it was Seville orange curd, but lemon curd or even passion fruit curd would both be fine too. It turned out even better than I expected, a good orange tang, caramelised top, and little cranberry flavour bombs. Feeds 3-4 depending on how greedy you are.
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Tarte aux noix

Walnut tart is a classic in south-west France, especially the Dordogne. Recently some visitors arrived from the Lot with a big bag of freshly gathered walnuts, so I had to try making it. It looks a bit odd, but it’s delicious, like a very sophisticated version of treacle tart. I used the recipe from Geraldene Holt’s lovely book of traditional French cuisine, French Country Kitchen, which is no longer a neglected cookbook.

It’s well worth making the pastry with orange juice; it adds an extra zing. In light of this, I substituted Cointreau for the rum Geraldene uses in her filling, and that was a good idea too. Pro tip: it takes ages to shell enough fresh walnuts for this, but listen to something nice on the radio while you do it 🙂
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Arroz con leche

When in Spain … it has to be arroz con leche, not plain old rice pudding. Truth to tell, the two are almost identical. In Spain, the arroz is always served cold, with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, one of the three spices used in unadventurous Spain (the others are saffron and paprika). And of course the rice used is paella rice (bomba), subtly different from the round-grain Carolina rice we use. Many Spanish recipes specify partly cooking the rice in water and then adding it to the milk, but I don’t hold with that — I like my pudding thick and creamy, and you need all the starch in the rice for that.

TV chef Karlos Arguiñano’s recipe suits me; he cooks it in milk, and the only thing I changed was the amount of sugar (many Spanish dishes are over-sweet for my taste) — plus we had it hot.
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Sunny poached apricots

Apricots

A slightly revised version of a BBC recipe. It’s just made for the tart, red-tinged apricots we get here. Apricots are nearly always disappointing raw, but brief cooking really intensifies the flavour. Baking in the oven rather than cooking on the stove top is gentler and means they are less likely to collapse. I do them when I am using the oven for something else anyway. Do plenty, and store in the fridge for instant dessert with cream, fromage frais, or ice cream.
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Easy fruity cakey pudding

As you can see, it was difficult to decide what to call this. I freely admit to lifting it almost wholesale from Baking in Franglais, because I had a few ripe apricots that needed using quickly. As usual, I made a few changes; I forgot to buy an orange, so I added lemon zest instead, and I used only apricots because I’d eaten all the cherries. Also, the recipe specifies a 20-cm springform tin. In my cupboard I have an 18-cm and a 22-cm one. Hmph. I decided to go for the 22-cm one until I saw what a tiny amount of mixture there was. The 18-cm one was the perfect size, producing a taller cake than Jean’s. I reckon I could have doubled the recipe if I’d used the 22-cm tin.

Verdict: a really good, light cake with very little fat and sugar. Cold, you can eat it as cake; we had it slightly warm for dessert with a dollop of chilled fromage frais, but cream or custard would be fine too, of course. It’s a keeper, for those times when you have a small amount of ripe fruit to use up. I’m sure it would be great with plums, cherries or peaches, apples or pears, or any combination. You can vary the other flavourings according to what fruit you use.
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