Simple Strawberry Tart (Finally, Something Good About the English Summer)

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I have been living in England for many years now, and I have enthusiastically adapted to most aspects of life here. I now queue diligently, I drink tea like it’s going out of fashion, I have learnt to bake scones and I even pop into Marks & Spencer every now and then. But try as I might, I still cannot get used to the English Summer.

It seems that for every glorious day where you can eat outdoors,  wear a sundress and do other lovely, summery things,  you have to endure weeks of barely mild temperatures, wind and rain.

Warm, sunny days, when they do happen, seem to arrive out of nowhere and there is this sense of urgency about them because you know that if you don’t cancel whatever your plans were for that day,  and quickly adapt to the unexpected appearance of the sun,  your barbecue may just remain in the garage for another year and your sundress will languish in the wardrobe until the next foreign holiday.

There is one pretty marvellous thing about English Summers though : berries. The mild, wet weather makes for juicy, sweet , delicious strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and all their berry cousins.

My local fruit and veg shop stocks local berries during the season and they are a real joy. Recently, I bought some delicious, plump strawberries. Not the shiny, identically shaped, designer strawberries you find in supermarkets; no, these were the real thing, all different shapes and sizes and some of them oddly misshapen, just like the ones I used to pick in my grandmother’s garden.

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Inspired by this bounty, I suddenly fancied a strawberry tart. A simple one, with just a buttery, sweet pastry (or pâte sablée in French) and strawberries on top. No crème pâtissière needed with strawberries this good. The only thing I added were some roughly chopped pistachios because I think they look nice and add a bit of crunch, but really you can leave them out and your tart would still be delicious.

The proportions for the pastry come from Michel Roux’s Pastry , which I highly recommend (and unfortunately no one pays me to say this).

You will need :

For a 26 cm Ø tart tin:
250 g plain flour
200 g butter, cut into small pieces and slightly softened
100 g icing sugar, sifted
A pinch of salt
2 egg yolks

600 g strawberries
20 g chopped pistachios (optional)
2 tbsp strawberry jam, to glaze

Method :

For the pastry, put the flour in a mound in a wide, shallow dish or directly on your worktop. Make a well in the middle and add in it the butter, sugar and salt.
Rub the butter and sugar together between your fingertips until combined. Add the egg yolks and combine, still with your fingertips. Gradually start drawing in the flour from the sides until it has all been added. Knead the dough 2 or 3 times then pat it into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Flour the tart tin. Roll out the pastry carefully on a well-floured surface into a round 3 to 4 mm thick. Use the rolling pin to help you lift the pastry into the tin. This pastry is very fragile and will probably tear when you try and lift it. The trick is to start lining the tin with as large a piece of pastry as you can manage, then fill the gaps with offcuts and gently press the edges down with your fingers to get a smooth pastry case.

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Refrigerate the lined tin while you preheat the oven to 180ºC / Fan 160ºC /Gas 4.

Cover the pastry with foil, add baking beans and bake blind for about 20 min (check your pastry frequently towards the end) then remove the foil and beans and bake for a further 5 min if necessary. You want a fully cooked pastry case with just a slight golden tinge.

Prepare the strawberries: wash them gently in cold water then leave to drain. Hull the strawberries, then either cut them in half and arrange them on the cooled pastry case in overlapping circles, or if you don’t have a lot of time, just use them whole (warning: this is much quicker but the strawberries will be rolling about when you slice the tart later).

Warm the jam in a small pan set over a low heat until it is liquid, then brush all over the strawberries. Scatter the chopped pistachios. Now expect some ooohs and aaahs when you bring this to the table.

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Filed under Desserts, Sweet Tarts

No Oven? No Problem – Make an Orange Charlotte!

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Hi there. It’s been a while, I know. Since I last posted here I have changed jobs twice, and I now have quite a long commute and a lot less time for blogging. I have also become a bit lazy and keep forgetting to take pictures as I cook. I have missed my blog though, and I am ready to revive it and start posting again ; probably not every week but hopefully regularly enough.
So here goes : the return of the Greedy Frog!

I was cooking a bit of a special lunch for our family last weekend . When planning the menu I decided on a Carbonnade à la Flamande (aka Belgian Ale and Beef stew) because it is delicious and can be made ahead and then just reheated in the oven (Nigella’s recipe in case you were wondering). This solved one problem,  namely how to serve a slow-cooked casserole for lunch without needing to get up at dawn to prepare it. It however created another problem: the carbonnade left no room in the oven for a baked dessert. This is an issue for me because baked desserts are by far my favourites, both to eat and to make so I haven’t got many recipes for no – bake options.

I also have an irrational aversion for fridge cheesecakes (it is a cheeseCAKE for crying out loud, it needs to be baked!!!) so this was really not an option. 

As I was leafing through cookbooks looking for inspiration, I remembered one of my Mum’s dinner-party staples from when I was a kid: the fabulous Orange Charlotte (yes I did grow up in the 80’s). It always looked stunning and drew a lot of oohs and aahs from the guests; and it tastes pretty good too. I remember thinking at the time that it was a rather decadent and terribly sophisticated dessert; nowadays I am not quite so awed by it anymore, but I still think it is rather special and a lovely centrepiece.   

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A word of warning: Us French people usually like to sneak quite a bit of alcohol in most recipes, and this one is no exception. Just remember that this Charlotte is not cooked (apart from the custard) so if you are catering for children or teetotallers make sure you omit the booze. Or put it in and just send the kids to bed early, your choice.

You will need (for an 18 cm Ø Charlotte mould):

3 oranges

500 ml milk

250 ml double cream

6 egg yolks (freeze the whites to make meringues another day)

220 g caster sugar

7 tbsp orange liqueur (optional, see intro. You can replace it with orange syrup)

1 tbsp. cognac (optional)

8 gelatine leaves (or enough to set 1 litre of liquids, check the packet instructions)

24/30 sponge fingers

Method:

Line the charlotte mould with cling film (if you can’t get hold of a charlotte mould, find a deep bowl or cake tin of the correct diameter with sides roughly the same height as your sponge fingers; a pudding basin works well too). Put your gelatine leaves to soak in a bowl of cold water.

Make the custard: Pour the milk into a large saucepan and grate the zest of 1 orange into it (reserve the orange to make the syrup). Bring to the boil then leave to cool a little. In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 150 g of the sugar until pale. Add the milk gradually, whisking briskly (the milk should be warm rather than hot to avoid curdling the egg yolks). Pour the mix back into the saucepan and set on a low heat to thicken. This should take about 20 min, but make sure you stir constantly to stop it catching, and keep the heat low or the eggs will scramble. Patience is key here! When the custard coats the back of the spoon, take it off the heat. Drain the gelatine then add it to the custard, along with 2 tbsp. orange liqueur if using. Leave to cool.
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Meanwhile, make the syrup: Squeeze the juice of the reserved orange into a measuring jug; make it up to 200 ml with water, add 1 tbsp. sugar, and transfer to a small pan with the squeezed-out halves and simmer on a low heat until reduced and syrupy. Drain into a jug, pressing the skins well to get as much flavour into the syrup as possible.

In a large bowl, whisk the double cream to a stiff Chantilly. Add the cooled custard gradually, mixing delicately to avoid knocking the air out of the Chantilly.

In a shallow bowl, pour the orange syrup and add 3 tbsp. orange liqueur (if using). Quickly dip the sponge fingers into the syrup on both sides, and line the bottom and sides of the mould. Fill the mould with the custard / Chantilly mix almost to the top, and finish with another layer of sponge fingers dipped in syrup (you can break off bits of the sponge fingers to fill in any gaps).
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Refrigerate for at least 6 hrs or ideally overnight.

To decorate, peel the leftover oranges, separate into segments and remove all the peel and pith. If you have time, finely cut the peel and blanch it for a minute in boiling water with 2 tbsp of sugar mixed in. Drain.

To serve, simply invert the charlotte onto a serving plate, and arrange the orange segments around and on top of it, and the peel if using.

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Filed under Cakes, Desserts

The Best Strawberry Cheesecake

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This is the cheesecake recipe I turn to when time is in short supply but I still want to make something delicious for the following day.  I started making this at 8 pm tonight,  less than an hour later,  it was ready to come out of the oven!

You can vary the recipe depending on what is in season (or which tinned fruit is languishing at the back of your cupboard).  I used rosewater as a flavouring but natural vanilla extract or lemon zest would be lovely too.

You will need :

8 digestive biscuits
50g melted butter
600g cream cheese (I use 300g full-fat and 300g light)
2tbsp plain flour
175g caster sugar
2 tbsp rosewater
2 eggs +1 yolk
142 ml sour cream
400g strawberries
1 tbsp icing sugar

Method :

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/gas 4. Butter a 20 cm springform tin and line the base with baking paper.

In a food processor,  crush the biscuits into fine crumbs. Mix thoroughly with the melted butter and press into the base of the tin with your palm. Bake for 5 min.

Meanwhile, whisk the cream cheese, flour, sugar, rosewater, eggs, egg yolk and sour cream until well mixed and fluffy.

Wash half the strawberries,  hull and cut into quarters.

Pour the mixture delicately over the biscuit base, then scatter the strawberries over the top and push them down slightly. 

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Bake for 40 min until set but still wobbly in the middle.

Cool in the oven with the door slightly ajar, then carefully ease out of the tin when cool and transfer to a serving plate. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Keep 3 or 4 strawberries to one side, and wash, hull and quarter the rest. Put in a small pan with the icing sugar and cook on a low heat for a few min until soft. Blend to a smooth purée.

Before serving, thinly slice the remaining strawberries, and arrange on each plate with a slice of cheesecake and a drizzle of strawberry purée.

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Filed under Bakes, Cakes, Desserts

Bring Some Excitement Into Your Life! Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Seed Bread

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If you are bored of your everyday bread, if the thought of yet another white sliced loaf makes you want to scream, if you are crying out for something to break the lunchtime sandwiches tedium… Then this is the bread for you.

Why should this be the answer to your problems, you may ask? Well, not only does it look lovely, with its rich golden colour dotted with tempting pumpkin seeds, but this bread also has the advantage of partnering equally well with sweet or savoury toppings. I am pointing this out because sadly it isn’t the case with a lot of other speciality breads (onion bread with jam, anyone? ) so it is perfect for busy households where the same loaf needs to be used for toast at breakfast and to make sandwiches to take to work.

Don’t like sweet potato? Or pumpkin seeds? No problem. This works equally well with the same amount of potato, pumpkin or squash, and you can use sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.

You will also be pleased to know that this lovely bread is also rather good for you, with its vegetable goodness and healthy pumpkin seeds.

So, to sum up: this bread is good-looking, versatile, tasty, and healthy.

It will change your life.

Bake it.

You will need:

250 g sweet potato, cooked then mashed

1 x 7g sachet dried yeast

350 g strong white flour

110 g pumpkin seeds

10 g salt

1 tbsp. olive oil

250 ml warm water

Method:

In  a large bowl, mix the sweet potato, flour, yeast, salt, pumpkin seeds and olive oil. Gradually add the water to form a consistent dough (you may need a little bit more or less water), then knead for about 10 min until smooth and soft.wpid-20140209_140641.jpg

If using a mixer, knead with the dough hook for 5-10 min.

Shape the dough into a ball and leave to rest, covered, for 1 to 2 h or until well-risen.wpid-20140209_144329.jpg

Press down gently with your fingertips to deflate the dough, then either shape into a ball again on a floured baking sheet, or fill a lightly oiled 900 g loaf tin. Cover and leave to rise again for 30-45 min.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220C/ fan 200C/ gas 8. Bake the bread for 25-30 min until dark golden (the loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom).

Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

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Filed under Bakes, Bread, Breakfast, Vegetarian

The Greedy Frog has been interviewed (again!)

I have been interviewed by Mike Parr on BBC Tees as part of a feature about the different attitudes to food in France and Britain.

If you want to listen to the show click here , my bit is about 1h20 min into it.

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Chocolate Orange Brownies

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These brownies are deliciously moist and bursting with flavour. The richness of the chocolate teamed up with the orange makes for a wonderful combination.

I came up with this recipe when I was preparing for a charity bake sale at work. A colleague asked for brownies to be included but he is allergic to nuts. I didn’t want to just make a plain chocolate brownie, because I like something to counteract the richness of the chocolate. I instantly thought of including orange but I didn’t think that just chucking orange zest into the mix would deliver enough flavour.

Then I remembered the celebrated clementine cake by Nigella The Great, and decided that a boiled orange would deliver a strong orange taste and help keep the brownies moist. I added the candied peel for texture, but you can do without if you prefer your brownies without “bits” in them.

The finished recipe received a very enthusiastic reception and I have had several requests for these brownies since!

You will need:

1 orange
250 g dark chocolate
150 g butter
3 medium eggs
100 g demerara sugar
150 g caster sugar
85 g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
40 g chopped mixed candied peel (optional)

Method:

Preheat the oven to 160C/ fan 140C/Gas 3.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Immerse the orange (whole and un-peeled) into the water, and boil for 30 min. Drain, then purée the orange (with a stick blender or in a food processor). Leave to cool.
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Melt the chocolate and butter together, either in the microwave or in a small pan set over a very gentle heat. Leave to cool.

With an electric whisk, or in a stand mixer beat the eggs until pale, then gradually add the sugars and whisk until pale and foamy.
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Add the melted chocolate, then the orange mixing gently in between. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold gently.

Pour delicately into a greased tray bake tin (mine is about 20×30 cm)and scatter the candied peel over the top.
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Bake for about 20 to 25 min. It is ready when a skewer comes out mostly clean but with a few crumbs attached; don’t over-bake your brownies or they will be dry!

Turn out onto a wire rack, and cut into rectangles when cool.

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Filed under Bakes, Buffet, Cakes, Desserts, Nut-free

Mince Pies: The Taste of Christmas

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Mince pies are among my favourite Christmas treats. When I first came across mince pies, shortly after moving here from France, I was intrigued by the name: did these crazy Brits really eat sweetened meat? A quick Google search reassured me that this wasn’t the case anymore, and only the suet remained from what was originally a meat-based dish. Vegetable suet can of course be substituted if you prefer.

Baking mince pies has to be the best way to spend a cold December afternoon; it is a real joy to bring the lovely, golden pies out of the oven and it makes the whole house smell of Christmas!
This recipe makes more mincemeat than you need. Store the remainder in sterilized jars and keep for another baking session; or decorate the jars with pretty labels to make a lovely home-made gift!

You will need (for 24 mince pies) :

For the mincemeat:

250g Bramley apples, peeled and grated
100g sultanas
60g currants
70g dried cranberries
180g raisins
110g chopped mixed peel
30g chopped almonds (optional)
4tbsp brandy
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
170g dark muscovado sugar
120g shredded vegetable suet

For the pastry:

450g plain flour
230g cold butter, diced
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1 beaten egg
Icing sugar

Method:

Make the mincemeat:

In a large saucepan, combine the apple, dried fruit, peel, almonds, alcohol, zest, juices, and spices. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the mix is fairly dry and the dried fruit has plumped up (this should take 45 min to 1h).

Leave to cool, then mix in the suet and muscovado sugar.

Make the pastry:

To make by hand, rub the flour into the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, add the zest and juice and bring together into a ball ( add a bit of iced water if necessary).
Alternatively use a food processor: mix the flour and butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then add the zest and juice and mix again until it comes together, adding a bit of iced water if necessary. Knead lightly a couple of times.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 to 20 min.

Assemble the mince pies:

PrehEeat the oven to 190*C/ fan 170*C/ Gas 5. Cut the pastry into 2 pieces, about one third to two thirds.
Roll out the larger piece (leave the other piece in the fridge) on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 3 mm. With an 8 cm round fluted cutter, stamp out 24 bases and use them to line 2 12-hole mince pie tins, or patty tins ( you will need to re-roll the trimmings).
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Fill each pastry case with about 1 tbsp mincemeat.
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Roll out the rest of the pastry as before, and cut out 24 lids with a 7 cm cutter.
Brush the edges of the pastry cases with water, then press a lid down on each base, sealing well.
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Make 3 slits in each pie top with a sharp knife, then brush with some beaten egg and bake for about 20 min or until nice and golden.
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Cool for 10 min in the tins, then remove to a wire rack and dredge with icing sugar.

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Filed under Bakes, Cakes, Christmas, Desserts, Pastry, Pies, Sweet Tarts