Orange and cinnamon creme caramel

If I’m doing a proper cooking session, there has to be a decent pud. Dare I whisper it…I might even fancy one that’s a little bit * Christmass-y *. I’m counting down to the holidays: we’ve even put up a decoration.

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Penguin has come out of the decorations box. It’s like welcoming an old friend.

This is the time when the good oranges start appearing in the shops – I picked up a box of satsumas the other day for just a few pounds. It brought to mind a cooking class I went on a couple of years back, at the Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School in Bath. The theme was French Bistro, there was duck and wine and butter (naturally), and the dessert was orange and cinnamon creme caramel. Just the ticket.

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My notes from the Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School, now splattered and scribbled upon.

I think creme caramel is one of those dishes that people think is hard, but is actually incredibly simple. What you do need though is a good eye, which comes with experience – it’s important to know how far to take your caramel so that it doesn’t burn, and be able to judge the right level of wobble in your baked caramel. The risk of error is all part of the fun. Here goes.

Creme Caramel

Adapted from notes given by The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School

300ml milk (you should use full fat but I had semi-skimmed)

300ml double cream (Oh yes!)

50g caster sugar

2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks

1 cinnamon stick, zest of one large orange (use a microplane) and 1 vanilla pod

For the caramel: 

170g granulated sugar

8tbsp water

Plus you’ll need either a 6inch diameter heat-proof glass bowl OR 8 dariole moulds to set your creme, a roasting dish, and lots of boiling water.

First we have to infuse the milk and cream. Put both into a small pan and add in the orange zest, cinnamon and vanilla. Heat gently until you get a hint of a simmer, and then leave to cool. Whatever you do, don’t let it boil, else you have a massive clean-up job on your hands.

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Infusing the milk and cream

Next we prepare our moulds. Butter the glass bowl or darioles and place in a high-sided roasting dish. Preheat your oven to 160 celsius and put the kettle on.

Now for the fun: caramel time! Place the sugar and water in a smallish frying pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. It’s best to use a light coloured pan, so you can watch the colour of the caramel, and don’t use a non-stick as it makes the sugar crystallise. It takes a while to make caramel so you have to be patient, but also watch it like a hawk: one minute it’s pale and the next black. Once the sugar has dissolved let it bubble until you get a medium caramel, it will take about 20 minutes.

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Caramel bubbling away. One moment it was like this…

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…and thirty seconds later like this.

Once the colour is right take the caramel IMMEDIATELY off the heat and pour into your heatproof bowl or moulds. It will bubble and will probably go a few shades darker. Swirl the caramel around to coat the sides. This caramel is hot so don’t put your fingers anywhere near it and make sure there are no children/cats offering to ‘help’. I have burnt myself on caramel and reached a level of pain that I have to no wish to ever revisit.

Now, in a new bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar until just combined. Strain your milk over the eggs through a fine sieve, and mix it all together. Pour your custard over the now-solid caramel. Now move the lot to the oven – your creme should be in the roasting dish – and fill up with boiling water to reach half-way up your mould(s). Like this.

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Ready for the bake

Bake until set but with a bit of jelly-like wobble in the middle. The small moulds take about 10-15 minutes, and the large mould about 30 minutes. Once its done, remove and leave to cool for 30 minutes before covering with cling film and transferring to the fridge. Chill for a good few hours or overnight.

To serve, loosen the moulds in boiling water and slide a round-edged knife around the sides before inverting onto a plate – make sure it has some kind of lip to catch the caramel sauce. You’ll find that a lot of solid caramel stays stuck to the mould, but that is OK. Eat!

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The finished article

An autumn loaf

Gertie has changed from a tiny ball of fluff into a slightly bigger ball of badness. Today she discovered the dustpan and brush, which as it turns out is the perfect size for a mid-morning kitten nap. Who knew?

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Last week I did one of those soul-destroying visits to Morrisons, the kind that make you grateful that you don’t go every week (one major bonus of having an allotment). It is quite incredible that some of the finest brains in retail have produced a shopping experience that is so uniquely energy sapping. Yet in their defence, on that visit they came up trumps: fresh yeast, hidden next to the butter, at the bargain price of 50p for 200g. That’s about enough for, what, 10 loaves? Best get baking.

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Fresh yeast

Fresh yeast is by FAR the best stuff for bread. The dried stuff is all very clean and efficient but always ends up tasting, well, yeasty. Fresh yeast is a different beast altogether, with a complex depth of flavour. It’s also easy as pie to use. None of that messing around with sugar and water and waiting for it to froth…just crumble it in the flour and you’re good to go.

It’s autumn so I thought I’d make a cider loaf (autumn…orchards…apples) but no cider in the house. What we do have is apple juice and lots of it, from Clives Fruit Farm in the Shire (Upton on Severn), squeezed from their own apples. This is a single variety Cox juice. Cider, apple juice, it’s all pretty much the same. I’d go for one that is dry-ish.

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Single variety apple juice from Clives, Upton on Severn

Cider wholemeal loaf:

250g strong wholemeal flour

250g strong white flour

10g fine sea salt

150ml milk

250ml dry cider or apple juice

25g fresh yeast

This is a recipe I’ve adapted from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries (he uses spelt flour and honey).

Put the salt at the bottom of a large bowl and add your flour on top – combine to mix. By doing this there is no chance of your salt killing the yeast. Next rub the yeast into the flour, just as if making a crumble.

Warm up the milk until when you put your finger in it, it feels neither warm nor cold, just wet. Good bit of advice that. Slosh it in, and then add the cider/juice. I do it in this order as if you mix the liquids in the jug the cider makes the milk separate into a claggy mess.

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Slosh it all in

Mix together with a scraper and then tip out onto your work surface and knead. I use the Bertinet technique (google: Richard Bertinet) which I won’t repeat here, only to say that it will make you a good baker of bread. After a few minutes you will go from having a wet mass of stodge into a springy bouncy ball of dough. Shape it into a round and place it back in your mixing bowl.

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Kneaded!

 

Place a cloth on the bowl and leave for about an hour or until roughly doubled in size. The milk and cider means that it may take longer to rise. That’s OK, just be patient.

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Risen!

 

I like this bread shaped into a round, so I use a proving basket for the second rise. Turn out your dough onto a lightly floured work surface, shape it, and then place presentation-side-up down in the basket. Dough has to be properly shaped with a ‘backbone’ to give it the structure it needs to rise properly. Just google Bertinet, he’ll tell you everything you need to know.

Leave again, this time for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven as high as it will go – 220c or higher – and place a baking sheet in there to warm up.

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After the second rise

 

To bake, have ready some baking parchment on top of a lightweight flat board, pizza peel or suchlike. Turn out the dough onto the paper and slash the top (I use a razor blade). A lot of bakers don’t use paper but it’s so much easier to manage if you do. Then slide the loaf and paper onto your heated baking sheet, directly into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes or so at the highest temperature, then turn down to 190c and finish the bake. This one took 40 minutes in total.

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The finished article

I think this loaf is actually a little over-proved, which you can tell from the way the slashes have (or haven’t) opened. No matter, it still tastes good. It’s isn’t apply, just…earthy. This loaf will keep for a good couple of days and is fine for toast after.

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Autumn cider loaf