Monday, 25 May 2015

Lemon Ricotta Cake

I just can’t resist anything that contains lemons, and this cake is one that is packed full of intense lemon flavour, but without being too sharp on the palate. It’s very adaptable, perfect for eating as it is or served as a dessert at room temperature with a dollop of cream and some homemade lemon curd or soft fruit on the side. In fact, how could anyone resist it?

Made with ricotta and a good amount of lemon juice, the cake is beautifully moist and very moreish to eat. Because of the inclusion of ricotta, cooking king purists might consider this a cheesecake and although moist and slightly creamy in texture, this cake does not have the same density as a classic baked cheesecake would have. It really is more like a cake than a cheesecake.

Recipes like this one always appeal, because they are so simple to make, yet produce such elegant looking and delicious results.
 
For those readers, who feel I am relentlessly bombarding you with lemon recipes, I apologise, but this IS a great cake, which even those who are ambivalent about lemon will love. It keeps well covered and refrigerated, but do let it come back up to room temperature before serving.
 

Ingredients:

175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 4 lemons
3 large eggs, separated
250g fresh ricotta
100g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
25g ground almonds
100ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas mark 4. Butter the base and sides of a 20cm round spring-form cake tin (about 6-8cms deep) and line the bottom with some non-stick baking parchment. Place on a baking tray and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat in until they are fully incorporated.
3. Drain any liquid off the ricotta and using a wooden spoon, stir into the butter mixture.
Place the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, whisk until they form stiff peaks.
4. Sieve the flour and baking powder together and along with the ground almonds, fold into the cake batter using a large metal spoon.  Add the lemon juice and stir through so that it is well mixed in.
5. Add a quarter of the egg whites and stir through the batter, to loosen it and then fold in the remaining egg whites, trying to retain as much air as possible, but do ensure that they are mixed in fully.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared spring-form tin and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 50 minutes. Check the cake after 30 minutes and if it is browning too much cover loosely with some tin foil. The cake is ready when a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin, before removing. Serve lightly dusted with icing sugar just before serving.

Serves 8-10.

 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Brown Sugar Meringues with Hazelnuts & Roasted Rhubarb

There are certain things that taste flippin’ delicious and this is one of them. Well… brown sugar meringues, cream and beautifully pink roasted rhubarb… how could you go wrong?
 
What I love about these meringues, is that they are so simple to make and unlike standard meringues which are normally made with refined caster sugar, these have a depth and complexity of flavour that goes so well with the slightly tart rhubarb.
 
Due to the fact that the recipe requires the use of light brown muscovado sugar, the finished meringues have a slightly chewy interior, but I like this contrasted against the crisp shell of the meringues and the crunch of the hazelnuts… not to mention the comforting feel of the softly whipped cream in the mouth. Absolutely delicious!
 
As with all meringues, the only watch-point is when you are separating the eggs – it is really important not to allow any yolk into the whites and also to make sure that you use a scrupulously clean bowl and whisks to whip them to the stiff peak stage. Other than that, the meringues are a cinch to make and the finished dessert looks so much more than the sum of its parts.
 
I have served the meringues with roasted rhubarb, but you can use poached plums or pears or any fruit that takes your fancy. Likewise, you don’t have to use chopped hazelnuts and can substitute them for other nuts of your choice, but personally, I think that they work wonderfully with the brown sugar in the meringues and the rhubarb.
 
Although, the rhubarb does need sweetening as it roasts, try not to over-sweeten it as the aim is to have it on the slightly tart side as the meringues are so full of almost toffee-like sweetness. I love roasting rhubarb because it retains its shape much more successfully and doesn’t collapse into a stewed mush, but also because it tends to retain its beautiful pink colour. For these reasons, I recommend that you roast it rather than stew it.
 
I like to serve the roasted rhubarb chilled but it tastes just as delicious served warm at room temperature – it’s up to you! The rhubarb and meringues can both be prepared well in advance and merely assembled just before you wish to serve them.
 

Ingredients:

Meringues:
3 large egg whites
175g light brown muscovado sugar
25g chopped skinned hazelnuts
Roasted rhubarb:
200g rhubarb, chopped into 4-5cm lengths
50g caster sugar
1tblsp orange juice (or water)
To finish:
250ml whipping cream, softly whipped
 

Method:

Meringues:
1. Preheat the oven to 150C/Fan Oven 130C/Gas Mark 2. Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer whisk until they are standing in stiff peaks. Gradually add the muscovado sugar, a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition until all has been incorporated and the meringue is still holding its shape.
3. Spoon the meringue onto the prepared baking tray, making 6-8 individual meringue ‘mounds’ spaced a few centimetres apart as they will rise and expand a little as they bake. Sprinkle a few of the chopped hazelnuts over each of the meringues and place in the preheated oven.
4. Immediately reduce the heat to 130C/Fan Oven 110C/Gas Mark ¼ and bake for 60 minutes. After this time, turn off the oven but leave the meringues to cool completely in the oven. They can then be removed carefully and stored in an air-tight container for up to 5 days until you are ready to use them.
Roasted rhubarb:
5. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
6. Place the rhubarb in a single layer in a roasting dish and sprinkle over the sugar and the orange juice (or water). Bake in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until the rhubarb is tender and releasing its juices, but has not disintegrated. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool and then refrigerate until ready to assemble the dessert.
To finish:
7. Place a meringue in the middle of your serving dish. Dollop some softly whipped cream on top and spoon on some of the roasted rhubarb and its juices.

Serves 6-8.
 

Review: Afternoon Tea in Tankardstown House Hotel, County Meath

I’m on a bit of an afternoon tea odyssey at the moment; partly because I want to seek out and find the best places in Ireland to have afternoon tea, but also in large part because I just LOVE afternoon tea! Yes it’s something that is a little bit self-indulgent but I firmly believe that these treats, if experienced every now and again, make life all the more enjoyable.
 
I also believe that there are certain foods and dining rituals that elicit an emotional response from deep within us; these vary from person to person and in many cases are associated with foods that we ate when we were children or that remind of us of happy times in our lives. I defy anyone to tell me that they don’t have at least one food or meal that does this for them. When I was younger, I remember that when guests were expected, my grandmother would bake a range of cakes and scones and serve them with dainty little crustless sandwiches. I always loved these occasions and her version of afternoon tea.
 
I have always enjoyed eating individual sized portions of foods and I love having a choice of different foods to eat – that way I can get to sample a broader range of what is on offer! I am also rather partial to pastries and cakes, so afternoon tea definitely ticks all my boxes and I am determined to try out as many places as I can in 2015.
 
I have been hearing a lot of great things about the Brabazon and The Cellar restaurants in Tankardstown House Hotel so when I heard that afternoon tea was also available, I decided to journey up to County Meath and sample it. I know, I know... it's a tough life!
 
Driving through the gates of Tankardstown House, you are immediately struck by the beauty of the lovingly restored Georgian house and the magnificent grounds. The owners Brian and Patricia Conroy have created something that is, in many ways, spectacular and totally sympathetic to the original architecture of the estate. The gardens are immaculate with high stone walls dividing the courtyard and garden areas creating spaces that you just want to explore further.
 
Afternoon tea is served in a restored cottage located off the same courtyard area that also houses Tankardstown’s other two restaurants. Weather permitting, afternoon tea can also be enjoyed in a dedicated Tea Garden area, but unfortunately conditions were a little unpredictable on the day I visited so this was not really an option.
 
Mismatched crockery sets the tone for the afternoon tea, which is relaxed without being stuffy or overly formal. A range of teas, including herbal teas are available, as is coffee. In keeping with tradition I opted for tea, choosing a strong breakfast blend as this suited my particular humour on the day. A large pot was duly delivered to my table along with a three tiered stand of edible delights. A tea cosy kept the tea warm and added a quaint note, reminding me of times spent having tea with my grandmother who always insisted on keeping a pot of tea warm in this manner rather than be allowed go slowly cold. The tea was strong with a robust flavour – just the way I like it! On a whim, I decided to have a glass of Prosecco, which was suitably dry and pleasantly fizzy.
 
Each of the plates making up the three tiered stand was crammed with delicious things to eat. The top plate held sandwiches, the middle tier a selection of cakes and pastries and the bottom tier had fruit scones with butter, jam and cream.
 
I decided to start from the top with the sandwiches, each of which was presented as open-topped so that you could easily see its constituent elements. The selection included:
  • Rare Roast Beef with Sliced Cornichon & Mustard Dressing on Brown Bread
  • Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Cream & Chives on White Bread
  • Goats Cheese & Red Onion Marmalade on White Bread
  • Smoked Chicken, Red Pepper & Brie on Brown Bread
Whilst all were lovely, my favourite of these bite-sized treats was the roast beef which I felt worked very well with the piquancy of the cornichon and mustard dressing. The cream cheese/red onion marmalade combo was simple, but equally delicious. Perhaps it’s conditioning over many years, but I would have preferred the smoked salmon on thinly cut brown soda bread rather than the white bread, but this is only a minor point and a personal preference.
 
I decided to try out the scones next. Our waitress informed us that they were made by Slane Bake, the ‘little sister’ of Tankardstown House and that the bakery was also responsible for all the cakes, pastries and breads laid out before us. The scones were lovely, with a slightly chewy crumb and just the right amount of dried fruit. A good dollop of a well-flavoured raspberry jam and some whipped cream turned them into an indulgent treat, perfect for eating between sips of tea.
 
The choice of cakes and pastries was varied and included:
  • Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
  • Chocolate-dipped, Cream-filled Éclair
  • Bakewell Slice
  • Red Velvet Cupcake
  • Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Fudge Icing
  • Chocolate Biscuit Cake ‘Truffles’
Of these, the two stand-outs were the carrot cake and the bakewell slice, both of which were full of flavour, with a wonderful moist texture and not at all dry. The least successful of the cakes and pastries were the Biscuit Cake Truffles, which were a bit mealy in the mouth, but they did have a lovely taste. At this stage, my appetite was well satisfied, but I still managed to finish everything that was put before me.
 
The afternoon tea in Tankardstown was absolutely charming and was wonderful way to spend a leisurely afternoon. The food was lovely and the service exemplary.
 
In fact, the only negative thing that I have to say about the experience was in relation to the condition of many of the roads in County Meath. I have never seen potholes like the ones that I encountered that day… there are so many wonderful places to visit in this beautiful county, including Tankardstown House, that one would be hopeful that Meath County Council is prioritising the repair and upkeep of its roads to encourage more visitors to the area.
 
Compared to many of the afternoon teas that are available, this one is very reasonably priced and highly recommended.
 
Cost:
Afternoon Tea for Two €40
Sparkling Afternoon Tea for Two (with Prosecco) €50
Tattinger Afternoon Tea for Two €65
 
Opening Hours: Saturday & Sunday 1pm-5pm
 
Tankardstown House Hotel
Rathkenny
Slane
County Meath
 
Tel: 041 9824621
 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lemon & Yuzu Juice Meringue Pies

I have always had a soft spot for Lemon Meringue Pie (or LMP); on the one hand it looks  frivolous and decadent in a very retro way but, on the other, when made well with REAL lemons, it is full of beautifully balanced flavours and textures. We have the good ol’ U. S. of A to thank for this wonderful pie; this is not some effete and delicate piece of French patisserie but rather a confection that shouts ‘look at me’! Whilst meringue-topped lemon pies do have their origins in French cookery, they are not the pies that I’m thinking of here. No! LMP is brash, it’s ostentatious and I love the big, bold beauty of it with the soft meringue piled mile-high on top of the set lemon custard enriched with butter and egg yolks which also serve to intensify the golden yellow colour.
 
America may claim Apple Pie as its national pie but for me I always associate LMP with the States as it was in a 1960s magazine article celebrating American Independence Day that my grandmother first came across the recipe that she used to make it from, from that day forward… and believe me she was regularly asked to make it for family occasions and get-togethers. Her LMP was legendary and much beloved by friends and family.
 
After the austerity of the post-War period in much of Europe, LMP must have seemed so extravagant and hedonistic but, that’s exactly what I find so appealing; it IS over-the-top and it is definitely self-indulgent but it also tastes so darn delicious! For a lemon lover like me there can be no better dessert.
 
Although I usually prefer to make one large single pie, here I have made 6 smaller but generously sized individual pies – there’s just something so nice about being served something that’s all for you!
 
I was recently given a bottle of yuzu juice, possessing an intensely citrus flavour which is hard to describe (somewhere between that of grapefruit and mandarin mixed together) and decided to add some of this to the pie filling. I loved the resulting flavour combination which somehow managed to make the lemon taste more of lemon, but with a background fragrance that hinted at the exotic. I would have loved to have used freshly squeezed yuzu juice, but unfortunately it is a fruit which, originating from Japan is somewhat challenging to source on this side of the world. If you don’t have yuzu juice you can of course leave it out and you will still have the most delicious Lemon Meringue Pie(s).

Ingredients:

Pastry:
200g plain flour
50g icing sugar
85g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 tblsp cold water
Filling:
2tblsp cornflour
100g caster sugar*
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
125ml lemon juice
50ml yuzu juice (optional) or use same amount of lemon juice instead*
150ml water
85g butter
1 large egg
3 egg yolks
Meringue:
4 egg whites
200g caster sugar
2tsp cornflour

*If using lemon juice instead of the yuzu juice increase the sugar for the filling to 115g
 

Method:

Pastry:
1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and using your fingertips, rub it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk and cold water. Using a fork, mix everything until it comes together and forms a dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to shape into a ball. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To blind-bake the pastry:
3. Preheat oven to 200C/Fan Oven 180C/Gas Mark 6.
4. Roll out the pastry to about ½ cm thick and use to line 1 x 23cm round fluted flan tin with removable base or 6 x 10cm individual tins (about 4cms deep). Trim and neaten the edges and pr1ck the pastry base(s). Fill with crumpled non-stick baking parchment and then fill this with baking beans.
5. Place the flan tin(s) on a large baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, before carefully removing the baking parchment and beans and baking for a further7-8 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
6. Lower the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
To make the filling (do this while the pastry is blind-baking):
7. Place the cornflour, sugar and lemon zest into a medium sized saucepan and gradually add the lemon juice. Add the yuzu juice (or more lemon juice) and the water and place over a moderate heat.
8. Stir the mixture constantly until it starts to simmer and begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and add the butter, mixing it in until it is fully incorporated. Next, add the whole egg, the egg yolks and mix in thoroughly with a small whisk. Return the mixture to a low heat and stir until the mixture begins to thicken significantly.
9. Remove from the heat and set aside while you make the meringue.
To make the meringue:
10. Place the egg whites in a scrupulously clean, large mixing bowl and whisk to the soft peak stage using a hand-held electric mixer. Add the sugar gradually whisking well after each addition. Sift in the cornflour and whisk this in also until completely incorporated.
To finish:
11. Pour the lemon filling into the baked pastry case(s). Top the lemon filling with the meringue – either spooning it on or piping it - starting at the outside edge and moving towards the centre. Return the pie to the oven for approximately 20 minutes or until the meringue is a very pale golden colour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a couple of hours before serving.

Makes 6 individual small pies or 1 x 23cm pie.