Dutch Apple Tart

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My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.

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This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.

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Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.

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Pumpkin Pie

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I recently visited America for the first time. Boston to be precise, resplendent with the fiery colours of the New England ‘fall’. I was staying with my friend, and former food blog collaborator, Kristel, who is conducting some very complicated biological research at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. America was a surprise in how much it seemed different to England in almost every way, even though the same language was being spoken. The food was a source of constant surprise to me: I found it difficult to restrain myself on my first trip to the supermarket – there were so many things that I had seen in films but didn’t imagine to exactly exist, that I then felt necessary to purchase. Such as pop tarts. These are an invention that never really caught on in Britain (although God knows why), consisting of a pastry shell filled with tooth-achingly sweet jam filling, that you warm up in the toaster. In the TOASTER. Baffling, but annoyingly addictive.

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As it was Thanksgiving season when I visited Boston, pumpkin was another foodstuff that was literally rammed down your throat at every opportunity. It popped up in coffee, donuts, cakes, pastries and pretty much everything else. I gladly embraced this, stopping for a Pumpkin Spice Latte (#psl) on every street corner. Also, being so close to such industrious maple syrup producing regions, such as Vermont, meant that it was nigh on obligatory to have maple syrup with every meal. We literally did this one day, taking it as somewhat of a challenge. We had maple syrup pancakes for breakfast, salad with maple syrup dressing for lunch, followed by a maple spice mocha and maple syrup “froyo” (frozen yoghurt), and then squash roasted in, you guessed it, for dinner.

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I decided to combine these two flavours in the classic Thanksgiving dessert of Pumpkin Pie. The sweetness of pumpkins (bought in a tin, to be true to the American recipe) marries very well with the nutty maple syrup, and the sourness of crème fraiche offsets the sweetness slightly. Around the latter days of November, my Instagram feed was clogged up with pumpkin pies, turkeys and the rather bizarre ‘candied yams’ (often involving sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows). So I decided to jump on the Thanksgiving bandwagon and give a pumpkin pie a go. I used a recipe from Food 52 that was, to stay true to the American theme, measured in ‘cups’, but thankfully my conversion seemed to work out fine. Pumpkin puree from a tin is laughably easy, but you can make your own by boiling the required amount of pumpkin until soft, then mashing until smooth.

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Mini Pavlovas with Summer Berries

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My friends Heather and Alex live on a boat. They have recently moved said boat from a 1,000 berth marina in Brighton to a tiny little enclave just outside Bristol. The setting is pretty idyllic: lines of squat houseboats with names like Katie-Jayne, with terracotta pots full of plants balanced on top. Last weekend was the boat launching party. It’s been out of the water for the last few months, being given an odd sort of TLC that involves its underside being shot-blasted. It has also been given a coat of paint, and now sticks out from its more demure neighbours with its bright shades of green and yellow.

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It was one of those perfect summer days that you call up the memory of in the depths of the English winters: sunny, clear and with a gentle breeze. It was also, conveniently, the summer solstice – the longest day. We were sat on the deck of the boat until at least midnight, and there was still a glimmer of light in the sky. We had a barbeque, the sure-fire sign that summer has started. There is a large, Australia-style communal barbeque at the marina. There’s something intensely primal about cooking and eating outside, and watching meat hiss and spit as it cooks over a flame.

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I made these mini pavlovas to follow the vast quantites of barbequed meat. I wanted to make something that was creamy and summery, but could be eaten without the need for plates or cutlery. The meringue acts as a little bowl for the marscapone filling and summer berries. I used raspberries, blueberries and some strawberries that I managed to salvage before they went into the Pimm’s. I also added pomegranate seeds, more for artistic frippery than taste, but they were actually surprisingly pleasant.

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Tiramisu

 

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If I had to pick a country’s cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would have to be Italian. Disregarding the resulting enormity of my thighs, of course. There just seems to be infinite possibilities surrounding a love of simple ingredients. Endless varieties of pasta and risottos to keep me entertained for a long while. And Italian puddings are often so decadently creamy, and don’t have the fiddly precision of French desserts – both epitomised by this recipe.

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As is often quoted, ‘tiramisu’ means ‘pick me up’ in Italian. This is due to the fact that it is laced with coffee and a more than generous (in this recipe, anyway) amount of booze. This is one of my go to recipes when I bring a pudding to a party, and has, on more occasions than I’m willing to admit, made a perfect hangover breakfast the next day.

tiramisu in bowl

The combination of alcohol suggested seems to vary a bit in between recipes. One most have in common is Marsala wine, a sweet fortified wine originally from Scicily. So I used this, along with amaretto liqueur, as I have a long-abiding love of the stuff.

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Apricot and Raspberry Frangipane Tart

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I have just submitted the above photo to a food photography competition in Observer Food Monthly. The competition asks people to send in pictures of their favourite comfort food to get them through the winter. Well, it would be difficult to get through the winter without pudding. This is the ideal combination of comforting stodginess from the rich almond frangipane, and a hint of freshness from the tangy raspberries and sweet apricots, reminding us that summer is not too far away.

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It seems to have been constantly raining for weeks on end, and we’re only now starting to see anything resembling clement weather.  A day slowly pottering around in front of a warm oven seems a fitting antidote to the rain. I wanted to make something that I had all the ingredients in the house for, to save braving the raging storm outside. I found a tin of apricots in the cupboard that were (just) within their expiry date, and an icy cluster of raspberries in the freezer, from when the plants in the garden were fit to bursting in the summer.

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I decided to make a tart, as the last time I made one was the Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Tart, which was the first recipe on the blog almost a year ago. When working at the café, I discovered the joys of frangipane – an Italian pastry cream made with eggs, sugar, butter and ground almonds. It’s really easy to make, unlike the more troublesome crème patisserie, as you just mix all the ingredients together and pour it into the pastry case. And the result is not bad for a casual bit of rainy-day baking.

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Crème Brûlée

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One of my more specialised Christmas presents this year was a cook’s blowtorch. We have been trying in vain to come up with uses for it other than caramelising the sugar on top of a crème brûlée, tentatively suggesting things like charring the outside of aubergines, but it really only has one purpose. I love this particular dessert so much, though, that having a piece of rather expensive kitchen gadgetry designed solely to make it seems fine to me.

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Crème Brûlée originated in England, in Cambridge, under the appellation ‘Burnt Cream’. The dessert was then adopted, and probably perfected, by the French, and given a much more elegant name. On a recent trip to Paris I opted to try many incarnations of the dessert, ranging from passable to sublime. The exact combination of a thin layer of crisp caramel hiding a luscious, wobbly underneath is surprisingly hard to come by. Often they are fiddled about with, and things like ginger, blueberries or cardamom are added. For me, the most successful crème brûlée will always be one flavoured purely with vanilla.

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The blowtorch took a bit of getting used to: the rushing of gas and the sudden ignition are slightly alarming – my first couple of attempts definitely deserved the description ‘burnt cream’. After a few practices and some YouTube tutorials, I was able to get something resembling gently caramelised. A few black patches are fine though- the slight bitterness greatly complements the creamy, sweet custard.

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Chocolate and Salted Caramel Puddings

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Salted caramel seems to be all the rage at the moment. Particularly using a posh variety of salt such as Maldon Sea Salt. It’s drizzled over the top of banana cakes, ladled into pastry cases, and poured over ice cream. A sprinkling of salt offsets the cloying sweetness of the rich, buttery caramel rather nicely.

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Calling these ‘puddings’ is a little vague, and I apologise. They are a cross between a chocolate fondant and a collapsed soufflé. However, they do encapsulate the very definition of a pudding – rich, indulgent and very, very bad for you. The salted caramel is swirled into the chocolate mixture before it goes in the oven, so it oozes down the side of the ramekin (and drips onto the bottom of your oven, so you might want to put them on a tray).

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I served these as the final hurrah to a Come Dine With Me style dinner party I threw for a few friends before Christmas. We had the filo wrapped carrots for a starter, followed by duck, followed by these. Unusually, I managed to not go to overboard on portion sizes, so the general consensus was that we were full but not uncomfortably so. I wish I could say the same for Christmas Day…

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