February 10, 2009

Ooo err, nice pair o' plums you got there…




Jam Tarts
(A treat for Queen Alice's Mad Hatter's Tea Party)


A minor heatwave experienced these last few weeks has seen the kitchens of Team Pretty Bake held quiet as we all have sweltered through temperatures most unnatural. There's something just not quite right about one's external environment being ten degrees warmer than core body temperature… But on a weekend where it seemed hell itself had opened up and consumed much of the state, Miss Emily and Miss Rose made the most of a drop to more clement and preferable conditions to return to the ovens and enjoy the pleasures found in a good bake.

With a few temptations in mind, we settled vaguely on a plummish theme, and chose to balance our intended sweeties with a search for the perfect ragù. Ragù, it seems, is as unique as the person who makes it. There is no consensus on the perfect combination of ingredients, and anyone you ask will provide you with conflicting remarks on what you must and must not do when it comes to creating the perfect ragù. Our heads left swimming with possibilities, we decided it best to start with a recipe of recommendation and build in our own preferences from there. And so the Ragù Bolognese was constructed with requisite love, gently simmered for hours, and finally served simply atop spaghetti and enjoyed in the company of a good friend. Meaty and delicious it certainly was, but for me the desired aesthetic would see the addition of tomatoes in some form, perhaps a switch to a rich red, and – it almost feels wrong to say this – a little less pancetta to decrease the saltiness. It must be said that this particular ragù did not quite reach TPB expectations, but it was still a delight and will certainly provide a solid foundation for future adventures. I believe Miss Rose already has something Giorgio Locatelli in mind…


Ragù Bolognese


For the baking we had settled on plums, and our fresh selection took the form of plum tray bake with cheesecake ripple. Effortless in construction, juicy plums were teamed with a rich sponge and a luscious vanilla-flecked ripple, with dark brown sugar a surprisingly complementary addition. This scrumptious afternoon delight was shared with tea and the pleasant company of Mr Christian, and thoroughly enjoyed by all.


Plum tray-bake with cheesecake ripple


As for our second of the pair; in an exchange following production of some exceptional cherry masterpieces over Christmas, Team Pretty Bake had come to possess a small aliquot of Abelour a'bunadh, the finest single Highland malt whisky my naïve and uneducated palate has thus far had the pleasure of experiencing. Had my darling man still been with us this would have quietly disappeared without word, but we have been left struggling alone in life, so thought it only fitting to combine this gift with our baking prowess and do what we do best. After a short scouring of the literature, we decided to feature our a'bunadh in a whiskied prune and custard tart. The prunes were macerated in Lady Gray and a'bunadh, and then combined with a gorgeous vanilla-infused custard bearing just a hint of lemon. What emerged from the oven was a tart simultaneously light and devilishly rich (well, maybe not quite, but I do so love that word). Who would have thought that the humble prune so tainted by a historical association with the bowel would produce such a delight? A treat for grown-ups to be sure…


Whiskied prune and custard tart


And so with our Sunday baking session brought fittingly to a close, Miss Emily and Miss Rose retired once more to ponder what shall feature on the next carte du jour…


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