August 31, 2013

Sweet indulgence: Krantz cake

Normally for this column the theme of indulgence relates to the matter of eating, but today, it was entirely in the doing (well, almost entirely).

I have been itching to make this chocolate krantz cake ever since I first laid eyes on its twisted beauty in Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi's latest book, Jerusalem. With their rich, bready aroma and soft and sweet dough, yeasted cakes are one of my favourite things to make, so I could hardly resist the lure of this delectable-looking relative of the babbka and other ugat shmarim.

Like all good baked treats it requires time, but a small amount of effort before bed and there's a gloriously golden and rich brioche dough proved and ready to go by morning.

It's also somewhat of a technical challenge—involving a rather elaborate braiding process (and in hindsight I'd certainly roll them much tighter next time)—but the rustic charm is frankly unmissable, making the krantz a real treat for all of the senses.

Filled with bitter dark chocolate and pecans, and slathered in a sweet and sticky sugar syrup it is best enjoyed warm, which is fortunate given it's near impossible to resist when pulled fresh from the oven.

The alternative filling was equally fabulous, and although the muscovado made the task of braiding slightly more difficult, the resultant sticky caramel with its cinnamon aroma and walnut studs was certainly worth the effort.

Both variations were equally scrumptious and I suspect that choosing a favourite krantz could prove difficult as the possibilities seem endless. I think I'll try doing one with ricotta and orange zest next...

August 25, 2013

Midweek Madness: Make it quick

Slightly disconcerting that I'm resorting to another round of Midweek Madness again already but here we are, so let me tell you about a couple of nice, speedy recipes that I came across this week.

First up, these delicious baked herb and pistachio felafel:

Milder than the traditional variety these baked felafel are a fine deviation, and make for a fresh and light alternative to the rich winter stews that have been gracing the table of late. While the lime and mint yoghurt was a particular highlight they were—on the whole—rather scrumptious, and will no doubt go onto high rotation come spring.

To contrast this new find with an old favourite, while this Ottolenghi recipe for baked chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey does need more time, the effort required is still minimal, making it the perfect dish to just throw on, go relax, and then come back to at the end of a long and strenuous week.

But if you've got dinner covered and just need a quick treat, then I'd recommend this beautiful and moist buttermilk cake, which can be thrown together in minutes and is gratifying without being too sweet. In this particular case I opted to throw in some ground almonds and use up a few blood plums I had frozen away, but I suspect it will work beautifully with whatever fruit's in season.

Now, if I could just have those five minutes to put my feet up, and maybe a strong cup of tea...

August 15, 2013

Book Club: The Kitchen Diaries II

The Kitchen Diaries II is the latest collection of musings by British food writer, Nigel Slater. Compiling recipes, notes and observations made throughout the years, what I enjoy most about this book is its seasonality, practicality, and insight into what a naturally talented cook gets up to in the privacy of his own home. It shares beautiful stories that change how you appreciate food, and puts so precisely into words many of the sentiments you hadn't yet realised you have. Rather than teaching you difficult skills or new techniques you unwittingly learn the fundamentals by abandoning yourself to the simple pleasures and, if you're paying attention, it's the personal reflections and off-hand comments that can help turn what you knew as a basic concept into something truly exceptional.

In the preamble to his recipe for braised neck of lamb with apricots and cinnamon, Nigel describes the enjoyment he gets from cooking with the parts of an animal that clearly show form and function, and this is something with which I couldn't agree more. Having an appreciation for how the different muscles break down and the properties of all the various components can make all the difference when it comes to the success (and or failure) of a dish.

To create a dish with such complexity on the palate from just a handful of ingredients is, for me, what it's all about. It's the ability to know how best to highlight quality, and if you can source yourself some devilishly good lamb neck then really, your work here is pretty much done. A few hours slow cooking of this richly flavoured cut gives you some meltingly soft meat in a gravy so luxurious and nourishing you really don't need to use anything but water in its preparation. The earthy spices help give the dish depth while the dried apricots lend both sweetness and a clean sharpness that help provide balance, and also cut the richness of the fat. What really lifts this dish is the shavings of lemon zest to finish, and it goes beautifully served atop a bed of cinnamon-scented mograbia and with a side of organic greens.

To finish, a pleasingly simple dessert of poached apples with ginger and anise. Sweet but refreshing, it was in fine contrast to the richness of the main and had that ginger-scented warmth that really helped to warm the cockles.

All in all, the perfect supper for a cold August night.

August 11, 2013

Sweet Indulgence: Bostock

Time once again for a little sweet indulgence and what I have for you this week is the Bostock, another fine example of French resourcefulness in not letting anything good go to waste. Much like croissants aux amandes it came about as an amiable means to make good use of day-old bread. Why it's called Bostock, I don't know. In France they're known as brioche aux sirop d'amandes et fleurs d'oranger, crème d'oranger, amandes effilées—or brioche aux amandes for short—but as a crispy, chewy, gooey brunch-time treat I'm happy to just call them delicious and leave it at that.

The Bostock begins with a thick slice of day-old brioche, although if you're like me and don't happen to have this just lying around then you may need to whip up a loaf or two first. My present favourite is this delectable browned butter and vanilla bean brioche, which has a perfume so divine I promise that it's worth the extra effort.

However you chose to come by your 'stale' brioche what happens next is that thick-cut slices are toasted, liberally drenched with an orange-infused syrup, slathered with a bitter marmalade or tart apricot jam, spread with a luxurious and fresh crème d'amandes, topped with flaked almonds and finally baked until crisp, crunchy and a gorgeous golden brown.

Not just a marvelous combination of flavours, the Bostock exemplifies idle elegance. A little forethought the previous evening will have you rising to the easiest of preparations, and in no time you'll be settling down with this resplendent pastry as the delicate aroma of orange blossom gently fills the air. Improved only by a good cup of coffee it is everything a little moment of luxury should be. Another perfect sweet indulgence.