Monday, May 9, 2016

"Country Cuisine;" "The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains;" "The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking" - for Queen Elizabeth II's 90th Birthday!

Dates I made these recipes:  April 21 – April 27, 2016 – Queen Elizabeth's 90th Birthday

Country Cuisine by Elizabeth Kent
Published by:  Sidgwick & Jackson – London
© 1980
Recipe:  Carrot Vichyssoise – p. 117 – from Sharrow Bay (hotel) in Ullswater, Cumbria:  Chef:  Francis Coulson; Proprietors:  Francis Coulson and Brian Sack.

The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains – Edited by Michael Smith
Published by:  Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. New York
© 1977
Purchased at an estate sale
Recipe:  Louisa Trotter's Cheese Straws – p. 69-70

The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking by Linda Collister.   Includes recipes by Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood
Published by:  BBC Books
ISBN: 978-1-849-90483-4
Purchased at Barnes and Noble
Recipe:  Paul's Chocolate Volcanoes – p. 310

Right then.  Let me start off by saying that I hope "HM" (Her Majesty) appreciates the efforts I went through to produce some delicious delights befitting HM and her 90th birthday because folks, finding and making these recipes was a downright horrible exercise, what what!

Let's begin with a few points of culinary interest:  1) In 1994, my husband, Andy, and I went to England and considered ourselves most fortunate to have eaten fairly decent food while there.  This was at a time when the Brits were just getting the hang of edible cuisine.  But that said 2) most of their food is, I'm sorry to say, rubbish and I spent more time for this blog post eliminating food I wouldn't eat on a bet (like ""Smoked Mackerel Hot Pots"—oh me no think so!) than what I would eat.

Then 3) I eliminated recipes that called for hard-to-find ingredients (i.e. native to Great Britain but not here) or recipes that just took too damned long to make.  So there went half of the three book's contents right there.

And then there was this problem:  4) Some books like Country Cuisine had so many usable recipes that I wanted to "cheat" and make a bunch of stuff from that book and that book alone but that would break my own rules of one per cookbooks so I couldn't go down that rabbit hole.  Then other books like The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains was just bereft of anything usable or – dare I say – edible, and I had to work hard to find a recipe – any recipe – that would work.  Best I could do was Cheese Straws and I thought they would pair well with the soup so there you go.  And finally there was dessert which seemed like it would be easy except I had to eliminate anything made with yeast (due to previous efforts at making a doorstop), phyllo dough (I hate working with it) or anything requiring 2,000 or so steps before I could shove the thing in the oven.

So there was that.  And then, and it has to be said, I had to deal with measurements and converting measurements and that was no fun at all.  Not at all.  England uses grams for measures which is why you absolutely need a scale to do some of this stuff.  In fact, the very same day that I made this recipe, my friend, Star Tribune columnist, cookbook author and master baker, Kim Ode, wrote a column for the paper outlining essential kitchen equipment for amateur bakers as well as one for advanced and I am chuffed to say that although I don't bake a lot, I had all but one item from both lists.  As I commented on her Facebook page, I love my kitchen scale and marvel that I ever went without one.

And as a reminder, all of this was to honor "HM" whom I adore and who gets mad props for making it to age 90 (and 63 years on the throne) while looking fabulous to boot.  And all the dishes I made her paid homage to her in some way, shape or form.  "HM" is fluent in French, thus the vichyssoise, Brits love their crackers ("biscuits") and toasts at tea times (cheese straws) and "HM" loves chocolate so hooray!  And with the exception of the cheese straws, all of these turned out to be pretty darned smashing! (Details to follow.)

And now a word about the books:

Country Cuisine is a compilation of recipes from country hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts and it is "delightful" as the Brits would say.  I thought it especially appropriate that the author's name is Elizabeth Kent as Elizabeth II is related to the Duke of Kent; they are first cousins.  Most of the recipes in this book were sounded good and were pretty easy to make while others, as noted, sounded horrible.

The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains is based on a TV show – The Duchess of Duke Street – that aired on the BBC from 1975 to 1976.  The show spotlights Louisa Leyton Trotter a/k/a "The Duchess" who worked her way up from being a servant to a cook to being a Duke Street hotel proprietress.  I didn't watch the series but heard about it (it was Emmy-winning) and so there you have it.  This cookbook gave me the most trouble as most of the recipes just weren't "all that."  Again, I reference dishes like "Creamed Veal Kidneys" and "Kippers with Marmalade."  Ghastly.  The "biscuits" I made were okay but that was mostly my fault – I think.  The recipe said to add the egg mixture to the flour mixture to form a paste but the paste didn't form like it should.  I suspect more liquid was necessary but didn't know how much so left it alone.  I also think the dough sat too long in the fridge but that was my fault.

The last cookbook, The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking, got me back on track and thank goodness for that.  Say what we will about British cooking, baked goods – both savory [savoury if you are British) and sweet saved the day.  Baking doesn't usually involve icky ingredients although savory bakes can be dicey. 

Now if you're not familiar with the BBC/PBS show, The Great British Bake Off, acquaint yourself with it ASAP by watching it on PBS or YouTube. I'll wait.  In Britain, this show is several seasons ahead of where we are in America but I don't care because the show is fantastic!

The premise of this show is that several bakers, most of them baking at master or near-master levels, compete to win the show's grand prize.  Each episode has three baking challenges:  the signature challenges i.e. recipes they are known for; the technical challenge where they are given basic instructions for the challenge of the day and the showstopper where they have to make spectacular items like 7-tiered cakes that look good and taste good too.  Each challenge has winners and losers and then at the end of each episode, someone is cut and sent home.

Each challenge is judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (yes, that's his name), who are master bakers and whose recipes are included in this cookbook.  And each show is hosted by Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.  Mel is an absolute stitch to watch and you will likely "luff" her.

The thing I "luff" about this show besides Mel is that the contestants are so absolutely polite with each other it's ridiculous.  And so British.  Even though they're in a competition they rally around each other each and every episode and it's touching.  Compare this to some of their American "counterpart" shows where every single day in that kitchen is a thrown down of some sort, sometimes involving knives, sometimes not.  "Uncivilized" is likely what the Brits would say with a good "sniff, sniff" in that way they have.

And I also love the judges and marvel at their own skill of being able to ascertain when someone's "bake" is just not quite on point.  Plus they're funny although Mary is much more quiet compared to Paul.

And with a last name of "Hollywood," it should be no surprise that Paul is the more outgoing.  And out of all the incredible edibles out of this cookbook, supplied by the bakers and the judges, I decided on his Volcano Cakes.  They were easy to make and seeing as how HM loves chocolate, this is as close as I could get to a birthday cake in her honor.

And with that, let's have a "Hip, Hip, Hooray" for HM and then off we go to the kitchen!

Carrot Vichyssoise – serves 8 – from County Cuisine
2 potatoes
4-5 carrots
2 onions
2 leeks
Ham bone or 2-3 rashers of bacon (Ann's Note:  thin slices of bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 ½ pints chicken stock
1 dessertspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
½ pint single cream (Ann's Note:  The Brits have "single cream" and "double cream" and best I can tell, half and half is probably the closest although I used regular cream without any problems."
Carrot cut in fine strips to garnish

Peel the potatoes, carrots and onions, then chop into small pieces.  Trim and shred the leeks.  Put all the vegetables into a large saucepan with the ham bone or chopped bacon, bay leaves and stock. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender.  Remove the bay leaves and ham bone and liquidize until smooth (or put through a sieve).  Add the sugar, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Blend in the cream, the slowly reheat (taking care not to let it boil) or chill thoroughly.  Just before serving (hot or cold), garnish with fine strips of carrot.

Louisa Trotter's Cheese Straws – serving size not given – from The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains
 5 ounces plain flour (Ann's Note:  plain flour is all-purpose flour)
4 ounces unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Good pinch of salt (about ¼ teaspoon)
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cold water

Mix yolks, lemon juice and water together.  Rub fat into flour until sand-like texture is arrived at.  Toss in grated Parmesan cheese.  Season lightly, tossing well in.  Make well, pour in the liquids, mix quickly and form deftly into a paste.  Leave for 1 hour in a cold place.  (Ann's Note:  My mixture did not form a paste and I suspect it was because there was not quite enough liquid in the mix but I followed the directions given so....)

Roll out dough ¼-inch thick and then cut into 2-inch wide strips.  Place these onto a buttered baking sheet, mark out the strips into ¼ to ½ inch sticks.

Dredge with more grated Parmesan cheese if the budget permits!  Bake at 400 for 7 to 8 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.

Remove with the aid of a palette knife to a cooling tray.  Divide when quite cool.  Store in airtight tin.

Ann's Notes:  Because the dough did not form into a paste, the rest of the instructions were difficult to follow.  I did my best to roll out the dough into a ¼-inch piece but failed and gave up trying to cut the dough into strips and sticks and just sort of threw the mess onto a baking sheet and hoped for the best.

The result was not half bad in the taste department but horribly awful in the looks department.  And I baked them for about 10 minutes as 7-8 didn't cut it.  If I had time I would make these again to see if I got different results but I didn't so there you have it.

Paul's Chocolate Volcanoes (Signature Bake) – makes 6 – from The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking
Unsalted butter and cocoa powder for the moulds
165g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
165g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 medium eggs
3 medium egg yolks
85g caster sugar (a/k/a "Baker's sugar," "Superfine," or "Fast-melting" sugar)
2 tablespoons plain flour
6 small pudding moulds

Grease the pudding moulds with butter and dust the inside with cocoa powder.  Chill for 30 minutes.

Gently melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  (Ann's Note:  or use a double boiler).  Remove the bowl from the pan and stir until the chocolate mixture is smooth.

Combine the eggs, egg yolks and caster sugar in a bowl.  Using an electric mixer, whisk together for several minutes until thick, pale, and mousse-like in consistency.  Carefully fold in the chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour, trying not to knock any air out of the mix.

Divide the chocolate mix equally among the 6 prepared moulds.  Place in the fridge and chill until firm. (You can make the puddings up to 24 hours in advance and leave them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.)

Heat your oven to 400F.  Place the moulds on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes* until the puddings are risen but not cracked.  Ann's Note:  at 8 minutes*, the dough was raw so I added 5 more minutes to the timer and they were almost done.  Five more minutes got me closer but still not quite there so I added 5 more and after a total of 23 minutes, they were perfect.  I don't see how on earth they would be done in 8 minutes unless he used the tiniest "pudding" moulds on the planet.  I used small soufflé molds and still had to bake them for quite some time.

Also, I've had similar "volcano" cakes in Hawaii at Roy's and theirs differed from these because they need 45 minutes to bake and they flowed chocolate "lava" when cut open.  These do not and from the looks of the photo, they were not supposed to.  Instead, we got a lovely moist center and that was good enough for us.  Whether they were up to Paul Hollywood's or even "HM's" standards is another story for another day.

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