Christmas Chilled Salmon, Dill, and Cucumber Soup

So, it is coming up to Christmas Day, your planning your festive feast, and you want to have a great, relaxed and stress-free day as possible. Over the next few days I’m going to do my best to help with some top tips, recipes to cover all the essentials and some menu suggestions and I’m thinking of soup, not a thick heart-warming, winter wonder, but something light, delicate and chilled as you need to leave room for all the Turkey, trimmings and the Christmas Pudding. This recipe can be made the day before, keep in the fridge overnight and served straight from the fridge. How is that for easy?

Chilled Salmon Soup

You have probably tried Gazpacho the rich, Spanish blend of tomato, day-old bread and good olive oil or Vichyssoise the classic cold combination of leeks, potatoes, chicken stock and cream, but my recipe today is Chilled Salmon, Dill, and Cucumber Soup. This is a lovely starter for a relaxed festive party or a fabulous light lunch, particularly with a nice glass of chilled Riesling or a crisp, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

If you fancy something different why not try my recipe for creamy Cauliflower Veloute with Cauliflower Pakora and Curry Oil which again can be made a day ahead and reheated or if soup is perhaps a little too filling why not make some delicious Chicken Liver Parfait finished with Brandy and some light crisp Melba Toast.

 Chilled Salmon, Cucumber, and Dill Soup serves 4

Around 400 gr Salmon Fillet, skinned, boned and cut into 3 centimeter cubes

( ask your fishmonger to remove any of the dark flesh from underneath the fillet )

2 large English Cucumbers, peeled

1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed and trimmed, cut into 3 centimeter slices

750 ml quality Fish Stock

150 ml Double Cream

50 ml Pernod or Vermouth

100 gr Butter

60 gr Plain Flour

A good pinch of English Mustard Powder

Juice and zest of 1 Lemon

A handful of fresh Dill

Sea Salt and fresh ground White Pepper

Remove the seeds from the cucumbers and reserve until later, then cut the cucumbers into half centimeter dice. Heat half of the butter in a medium-sized, frying pan and quickly sauté for two minutes. Lightly season and pour on the Pernod and remove from the heat and leave to chill. In a medium-sized pan bring the fish stock to a gentle simmer and remove from the heat. Heat the remaining half of the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and add the spring onions. Cook for five minutes without colouring then add the flour, cook out the flour for two minutes, over a gentle heat, stirring continuously to prevent sticking and browning. Add the hot stock, stirring all the time and bring up to the boil. Turn the heat down and add the salmon pieces, lemon zest, and cucumber seeds. Simmer over the lowest possible heat for fifteen minutes regularly stirring to prevent the soup sticking. Add the cream and cook for two or three more minutes.

When the salmon is poached in the soup base remove from the heat and allow to cool. Add the lemon juice then using a hand blender or food processor blitz the soup. Pass the soup through a very fine sieve into a bowl and stir in the cucumbers and Pernod. Finely chop the dill and add to the soup. Check the seasoning, remembering when chilled the seasoning will be less prominent. Cover and thoroughly chill. Serve in bowls garnished with a little more freshly chopped dill and some smoked salmon pate on toast.

Allergens in this recipe are;

Raw Fish  Milk  Mustard

Please see the Allergens Page

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Soup

The word restaurant ( or restoratif ) was first used in sixteenth-century France to describe a cheap, concentrated soup or broth served by street vendors. It was marketed with almost miraculous properties, said to be able to cure exhaustion, the word means ‘something restoring’, and from the very earliest times, a soup or potage was often the staple diet of invalids due to it being able to be easily digested. Most cultures have an example of this tradition in some form, the cure-all kosher chicken soup or the squaddie sipping beef bullion from a cube or paste.

These early soups probably bore little resemblance to what we eat today made from a few carefully chosen fresh ingredients. The word restaurant as we use it today took on the modern association in the 1760’s when a Parisian shopkeeper started serving pots of soup on his premises. As French gastronomy developed so did the soup from the traditional hearty Pot-au-feu becoming elegant, refined Consommé, luxurious cream-based velvety veloutés.

The word soup is most certainly derived from the Latin suppa* meaning ‘ bread soaked in broth ‘. There is probably little to distinguish early soups from stews, made with whatever ingredients were available, meat scraps, bones, vegetables, maybe grains and lots of herbs. The pot would hang over the fire and cook for several hours. The French Petite Marmite is perhaps the closest we have to these early soup dishes, the aromatic meat and vegetable broth served in the pot in which it is cooked.

From a culinary perspective, soups can be broken down into four groups, broths, and Consommé such as Cock-a-leekie. Vegetable purées such as tomato, curried parsnip or carrot and coriander. Thickened soups such as GazpachoChowder,  or Mulligatawny, using rice or a traditional chicken velouté made with stock and a roux. The last group is the soup / stews like the Petite Marmite and rustic Minestrone.

Preprepared Soups

The first concentrated, portable soups were devised, most likely by trial and error in the eighteenth century by reducing stocks down to form a very thick syrup that could then be dried out and stored. Today the Japanese make their favourite miso soup is from concentrated pastes. Commercially made soups really came of age with the development of canning, Americans consume approximately two and a half billion bowls of the Campbell’s Soup Company condensed soups three most popular flavours Tomato, Cream of Mushroom, and Chicken Noodle Soup alone. Microwaveable bowls have further expanded the ready-to-eat soup market, even more, offering an almost instant, convenience food.

The concept of dried food is not particularly new but it was not until the twentieth century and vacuum technology allowed scientists to perfect freeze-drying or dehydrating foodstuffs. Maxwell House developed a technique to produce coffee granules in 1963. The rest of the food industry soon saw the potential and powdered soups grew to account for just under twenty-five percent of the UK market by 2000.Food manufacturers continue to innovate and changes in packaging saw the growth of fresh soups and today Heinz is introducing soup pastes to replace powder bases.

*In Italian cuisine soup or zuppa is predated by Minestra the ancestor of Minestrone soup. Today, it is a blanket term referring to a first course of vegetables, legumes, pasta or rice cooked in a stock. Risotti and pasta dishes such as spaghetti alla vongole are sometimes referred to as minestre asciutte or “dry” minestre.

** Fresh chilled soups, however, still only accounted for 14.4% of retail soup sales in 2000, compared to 61.5% for ambient wet (mostly canned soups) and dry soups, 23.6%. The relatively small size of the sector was reflected by only 13% of adults interviewed agreeing that chilled soups in cartons were actually better quality than canned soups.

The Soup Market Market Assessment Key Note Publications Ltd, January 2001

The Recipe – Carrot and Coriander Soup

I make soup regularly and always have onions, garlic, leeks and celery to hand to add some base flavours to whatever soup I am making. A stick blender or food processor quickly makes light work of pureeing the cooked vegetables into a smooth soup. The rest of the ingredients are pretty common and essential in a well-stocked kitchen. The secret to this classic is a spoonful of marmalade to add a little extra sweetness and an orange undertone to the finished soup. Carrot soup is very versatile you can add preserved stem ginger, a chilli or splash of sweet chilli sauce or more orange juice to your next batch.

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Carrot and Coriander Soup                        serves 4

1 kg carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 large Onions, peeled and roughly chopped

3 sticks of Celery, washed and roughly chopped

2 cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped

50 ml quality Olive Oil

1 litre of Water or light Chicken or Vegetable Stock if available

2 tablespoons thick cut Orange Marmalade

1 tablespoon Coriander Seeds

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and sauté the vegetables and garlic for ten minutes until soft without colouring. Toast the coriander seeds in a small pan or under the grill for a couple of minutes to release the essential oils then blitz in a food processor. Add to the vegetables along with the water and marmalade. Bring to the boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid and simmer for twenty minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool for a while before blending in a food processor or with a stick blender. Correct the seasoning and return to the heat to warm thoroughly before serving. You can finish with a little cream if you are feeling decadent and some chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Marie Rose ( Seafood ) Sauce

The UK’s favourite accompaniment to cold seafood is Marie Rose Sauce ( sometimes sold as seafood sauce ), a tangy blend of ketchup and mayonnaise. Historically the seafood cocktail dates back to the United States during the late 19th century, when shellfish, often oysters in a spicy sauce, were a popular appetiser. The custom of serving the dish in stemmed glasses can be traced to the era of Prohibition, but unlike many recipes, there is no list of claimants for the glory of inventing the idea. By the end of the 1950’s a dish of shrimp and cocktail sauce, served in a sundae glass, was available at the Las Vegas Hotel Nevada. The dish was described as the “original shrimp cocktail” and sold at fifty cents.

Seafood Sauce

In the 1970’s many an English dinner party was graced by a Prawn Cocktail, crisp lettuce, plump prawns and tangy Marie Rose and they are still popular today, perhaps, with some extra Smoked Salmon or a couple of Crevettes. Marie Rose is best made using some homemade mayonnaise and quality ketchup and I cannot better the recipe of Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham in their wonderful book ‘ The Prawn Cocktail Years ’ revisiting a host of neglected dishes such as Black Forest Gateau, Duck a l’Orange and Shepherd’s Pie.

Marie Rose Sauce                      serves 4

4-5 tlbsp of homemade Mayonnaise

1 tlbsp Heinz Tomato Ketchup

4 shakes of Tabasco

2 tsp Cognac

Juice of half a fresh Lemon

Paprika

In a medium mixing bowl thoroughly combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, Tabasco, cognac, lemon juice and a couple of good pinches of paprika.

The Prawn Cocktail Years

Simon Hopkinson & Lindsey Bareham

Hardback, 256 pages

1997, Macmillan

ISBN 0 333 68460 5

 

Seasonal Ingredients – December

As the cold, long winter nights really kick in we can really enjoy lots of hearty, filling dishes and great tasting produce such as game, clementines and delicious shellfish. We finish off the month with perhaps the biggest food feast of the year Christmas Day Lunch and all the delicious Christmas dishes and culinary treats.

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Vegetables

There is an abundance of root vegetables available in December for soups, stews, and roasting; carrots, celeriac, swede, parsnips ( always better after the first frost they seem to be sweeter ) and don’t forget beetroot which is particularly delicious as a roasted vegetable with some olive oil, thyme, plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and perhaps a drizzle of honey . Butternut squash, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, celery, chicory, cabbage, kale, salsify, and shallots are readily available as are the season’s main crop potatoes.

Brussels Sprouts

Fruit and Nuts

Dried dates, chestnuts, clementine’s and cranberries,  which are a good source of vitamin C and manganese are Christmas staples and available alongside native apples and pears. It is possible to import bananas, passion fruits, pineapples, pomegranates and tangerines and almonds, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts.

It is also the season for imported white and black truffles.

Mussels

 Fish and Shellfish

Clams, lobsters, mussels, oysters, scallops, and squid, as well as cod, Dover souls, haddock, mackerel, monkfish, pollock, skate, and turbot, are all freely available when boats can sail, on a cold day a bowl of steaming mussels is a perfect lunchtime treat.

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Meat

Duck and wild duck, partridge, pheasant, grouse, guinea fowl, and venison are all in season as well as the Christmas Turkey or Goose ready for your dinner on the 25th December.

Cooking with Beer – Beer and Cheese Bisque

When you work for a brewery you are not afraid to cook with beer, in Belgium, they cook with beer much as the French use wine. I think almost all aspiring food led pubs have included deep fried fish in a beer batter or a steak and ale pie on their menus at some stage and more recently they have started to include dishes such as diverse as beer bread, beer ice cream and beer can chicken. For virtually any recipe that calls for a liquid of any sort, the liquid can be substituted with beer.

As a marinade for meat or poultry, beer penetrates, flavours and tenderizes, it less acidic than wine so the food can be left in the marinade longer increasing the flavour. In roasting or braising when beer is used to baste the food or as an ingredient in the basting sauce it imparts a rich, dark colour as the sugars caramelise. So, beer is great for adding flavour to BBQ’s and slow cooked casseroles and stews.

In batter, a live ( not pasteurised ) beer can be substituted for yeast and water, the result is a crisp flavoursome coating for deep-fried fish such as cod, haddock, salmon, and squid. Beer is also delicious with shellfish like Mussels, cooking with it instead of wine, and we even developed a recipe in my day job to use with Oysters. Finally, beer and cheese are perfect companions, the famous Welsh Rarebit is the classic dish of cheese, beer and Worcestershire sauce combined together on toast and today’s recipe Beer and Cheese Bisque is really rather delicious.

As with wine when you boil and reduce beer you will increase some of the flavours and lose others, you will also evaporate off all of the alcohol. If you are using beer as a substitute for stock remember reducing a strong, intensely hoppy beer will leave a bitter residue. A sweetish mild or stout with little hopping will produce a fine gravy. A top tip is to reserve a little beer and add it when the cooking is finished to lift and enhance the beer flavours. A final note like wine never cook with a beer you would not drink.

IPA Bottle

Light Larger style Beers are ideal for batters as the carbonation produces a light, airy result and the sugars caramelise to a deep golden colour.

IPA Indian Pale Ales the extra hopping makes for an ideal medium for cooking mussels and seafood.

Traditional Ales – use in bread, pies and stews, the Belgium classic Carbonnade  Flamande is very similar to a Beef Bourguignon with beer substituted for wine.

Stouts and Porters – are used in rich flavoured mustards and steamed steak and oyster pudding with Guinness.

Wheat Beer traditionally used in Waterzooi, a fish stew from the Flanders region of Belgium thickened with egg yolks and cream and the favourite of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, born in Ghent. Wheat Beer is also ideal for batter mixes.

Speciality Beers – fruity lambic beers in chocolate cakes and puddings and raspberry or sour cherry Kriek beers with roast duck and fowl.

Beer and Cheese Bisque

Beer and Cheese Bisque        serves 4

Bisque is a term usually applied to creamy shellfish or roasted vegetable soups, where the main ingredients are first roasted and coloured then simmered to form a stock – the soup is therefore twice cooked or ‘ bis cuites ’. This soup is a little bit of a cheat as its ingredients are only cooked once but it sounds too nice a name to seriously quibble. You can substitute a well rounded not too dark beer for the Liberation Ale.

A good sized nugget of Jersey butter

A slug of quality Olive Oil

2 large mild Onions, peeled and thinly sliced

2 sticks of Celery, washed and finely sliced

1 clove of Garlic, peeled and crushed

250 gr of strong Cheddar Cheese, grated

2 tablespoons of Plain Flour

½ tablespoon of Dijon Mustard

¼ teaspoon picked Thyme Leaves

1 Bay Leaf

A 330 ml bottle of Liberation Ale

250 ml of Jersey Pouring Cream

Sea Salt and finely ground White Pepper to taste

for the croutes

8 pieces of stale Baguette, thinly sliced

1 Garlic clove, halved

Good quality Olive Oil

Grated Cheddar Cheese

Smoked Paprika

to garnish

Freshly chopped Parsley

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pan and gently cook the onion, celery, garlic, and thyme until the onion is softened but not browned – about twenty minutes. Stirring now and again to stop it catching. Add the flour and cook out for two to three more minutes, then add the beer, mustard, and the bay leaf and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and blitz with a hand blender. Add the cheese and cream and reheat without boiling, as this will cause the soup to split. Correct seasoning before serving.

For croutes, toast the bread, rub each slice with garlic, then drizzle with a little oil. Sprinkle with the cheese and paprika and grill until golden and bubbling. Serve the soup with the cheese croutons on top sprinkled with parsley.

Classic Fruit Cake

For those of you who like to be organised now is an ideal time to start to prepare for the festive season and start preparing your Christmas pudding, mincemeat and your Christmas cake. This is my go-to recipe for fruitcake, rich and flavoursome enough for a christening or wedding cake or our family Christmas Cake, it is a sufficiently sturdy bake to carry the weight of marzipan and icing and can be used in tiers. It is a real favourite and we bake at least one a month, it is a great match for a nice crumbly cheese like Wensleydale or Caerphilly. I haven’t specified the dried fruit you can use a mix of raisins, sultanas, currants, cherries, apricots, cranberries, prunes or figs and you can omit the nuts if you prefer and add an extra eighty grams of flour. I use raisins, sultanas, lots of cherries and dried mixed peel.

Christmas Cake.jpg

Classic Fruit Cake

750 gr Mixed Dried Fruit

200 gr Self Raising Flour

250 gr soft Unsalted Butter

250 gr light Brown Sugar

100 gr Ground Almonds

75 gr Flaked Almonds

5 large free-range Eggs

1 tablespoon Black Treacle

1 teaspoon Ground Ginger

1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

½ teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

A generous pinch of Ground Cloves

½ teaspoon Baking Powder

1 teaspoon Almond extract

100 ml Brandy, Whisky or Bourbon

Zest and juice of 1 Orange

Zest and juice of 1 Lemon

Buttered, lined, deep twenty-centimeter cake tin

Put the dried fruit, zest and juice and alcohol into a large bowl and leave for twenty-four hours stirring occasionally.

Heat oven to 150C / 300 F / Gas Mark 2. Put a damp cloth onto the work surface and place your largest mixing bowl on top. Add the softened butter, sugar, treacle and almond essence and cream together. Crack the eggs one by one into a small bowl to check they are fresh, then combine and whisk together. Sift the flour, spices and baking powder into another bowl.

Add the egg mix in batches and beat into the butter and sugar mix. Add a couple of tablespoons of flour with each batch to prevent the mix from splitting. When all of the egg is mixed in add the remaining flour and spice mix and fold together until thoroughly combined. Add the soaked fruits and flaked almonds and gently stir together. Tip the cake mix into your prepared cake tin, and tap on the work surface to knock out any pockets of air. Place in the centre of the oven bake for an hour, cover the top with two layers of baking paper and turn the oven down to 140C / 275 F / Gas Mark 1 and cook for around two and a half to three more hours or until a wooden skewer inserted in the cakes centre comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool. To feed your cake poke holes in it with a skewer and spoon over tablespoons of your chosen alcohol, wrap in fresh baking paper and tin foil and place in a biscuit tin or plastic tub. Feed the cake with two tablespoons of alcohol every fortnight, until you marzipan it before icing.

Christmas Pudding

Sunday the 26th November is ‘ Stir-up Sunday ‘ the date when many people traditionally prepare their Christmas Puddings. I thought I would post this recipe just over a month early to enable people plenty of time to prepare and make sure they have all the ingredients bought in ready. If you are not particularly religious you can make your pudding earlier and it will probably be even better maturing for longer.

‘ Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen. ’

These are the opening words of the collect for the day in the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 as used on the last Sunday before Advent, the beginning of the Christian Christmas season. The story is as housewives listened to the verse they would be reminded to go home and make the family Christmas Pudding. Many recipes for Christmas Pudding require a period of several weeks for the pudding to mature, I know people who make them for next year’s consumption, however, this Sunday became an informal time for many families to gather together and make their pudding.

Christmas Pudding 3

The pudding mix is stirred from East to West in honour of the three wise men and some people add a silver coin, a sixpence or shilling or today maybe a twenty pence piece, to the pudding mix, finding the coin brings good luck. The Christmas pudding is one of the essential British Christmas culinary traditions assumed to be another of the many made popular and almost sacrosanct by the Victorians, alongside the Christmas Cards, roast turkey and the decorated tree. In reality, the spiced, fruit pudding was most likely popularised by George I, bringing the tradition over from his native Hanover.

Christmas PuddingI love baking at Christmas, the smell of all the warming spices and all the rich delicious cakes and pastries, Gingerbread Houses, Stollen, Pannatone, Mince Pies and the Christmas Pudding. This recipe is from one of my culinary inspirations my Aunty Mary, a brilliant cook, it really is the best I’ve ever encountered with lots of dried fruits and citrus peel soaked in some good beer, and now I work for a brewery this is not too much of a problem.

Some recipes call for suet but this recipe rather indulgently uses butter but it is for Christmas after all and we all should be a little indulgent. We used to make lots of puddings, spending most of the day sorting through the dried raisins and sultanas to make sure there were no small stones in the bags, then they would be left overnight in the stout. The secret to this pudding even making one or two is patience, spend plenty of time in preparation, cook slowly and then wait for five weeks, you won’t be disappointed. Enjoy.

Aunty Mary’s Christmas Pudding         makes two x 2 pint puddings

350 gr Dried Sultanas
350 gr Dried Raisins
150 gr Candied Mixed Peel
100 gr Dried Apricots, cut into small pieces
100 gr Dried Figs, cut into small pieces
100 gr Glace Cherries, quartered
50 rg Blanched Almonds
2 large Bramley Cooking Apples
250 gr Butter, taken straight from the fridge
150 gr Plain flour
150 gr fresh White Breadcrumbs
100 gr Dark Muscovado Sugar
3 large free-range Eggs
2 tablespoons Brandy
1 tablespoon Dark Treacle
Juice and zest of two Oranges
1 level teaspoon ground Cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground Nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground Allspice

Using a colander wash the sultanas and raisins under the cold tap and drain. Place into a large glass bowl or plastic container with the candied peel, apricots, figs, and cherries and pour in the stout. Sore in the fridge overnight stirring a couple of times. Prepare the remaining ingredients as follows; roughly chop the almonds. Zest and juice the oranges into a bowl then peel, core and chop the apples into the same bowl, stirring to stop the apples from browning. Drain the dried fruits in a colander. Whisk the eggs, brandy, and black treacle together in a small jug. In a second very large bowl, mix all the flour, sugar, spices and breadcrumbs.

Combine the all of the ingredients apart from the butter and stir well. Holding the butter carefully in its paper, grate a half of it into the bowl, then stir everything together. Repeat with the second half of the butter is grated, then stir for a good couple of minutes. Get all of your family to stir the pudding, and everyone can make a wish. Butter two 1.2 litre/ 2 pint bowls and put a disc of baking paper in the bottom of each then spoon in the pudding mixture. Cover with a double, folded layer of baking paper, with a central pleat to allow the pudding to expand when cooking. Hold in place with a large rubber band, then tie very tightly with butchers string. Cut off any excess baking paper. Place each bowl on a large sheet of thick baking foil and bring the edges up over the top, then put another sheet of foil over the top and bring it down underneath to make a double package (this makes the puddings watertight). Carefully tie with more string, and make a handle for easy lifting in and out of the pan.

Gently steam the puddings in a double pan for eight hours, topping up with water as necessary. Remove from the pans and leave to completely cool overnight. When cold, discard the foil and baking paper messy wrappings and reseal in fresh baking paper, foil and string. Store in a cool, dry place until Christmas.

Pavlova

Pavlova is a fluffy meringue dessert with a crispy exterior named after the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. The dessert is believed to have been created in honour of the dancer either during or after one of her tours to Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s, and there are many arguments as to who created the dish first. Matthew Evans, a restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, said that it was unlikely that a definitive answer about the pavlova’s origins would ever be found. “People have been doing meringue with cream for a long time, I don’t think Australia or New Zealand were the first to think of doing that.” It is most likely whoever first thought of the dish was influenced by German tortes and cakes.

Pavlova

A classic Pavlova has a crisp and crunchy outer shell, and a soft, moist and fluffy marshmallow-like center. The principal difference from meringues is the addition of an acid such as lemon, cream of tartar or white wine vinegar and cornflour to the mix and a reduced cooking time as you do not want the Pavlova drying out. A traditional Pavlova is usually decorated with a topping of whipped cream and fresh fruit. The dessert is very popular in both Australia and New Zealand, particularly for parties, celebrations and at Christmas time.

Pavlova        Serves 6-8

250 gr Caster Sugar

125 gr Egg White

2 teaspoons of Cornflour

1 teaspoon White Wine Vinegar

A few drops of Vanilla Essence

A pinch of Salt

Preheat the oven to 200 C /400 F/ Gas mark 6. Line a baking tray with baking paper and add the sugar. Put in the oven for five minutes. Meanwhile, whisk your egg whites – using an electric whisk – with a pinch of salt in a clean metal or glass bowl until foamy. Remove the sugar from the oven. Turn the temperature down to 120C/ 250F/ Gas mark ½, leaving the door open to cool it down quickly.

Add about a third of the hot sugar to the meringue and whisk for about three minutes. Add the rest of the sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition until all it’s used up. Add the cornflour, vinegar, and vanilla and continue whisking for another three minutes until you have a thick, glossy mix. Spoon the mix onto a baking tray lined with baking paper or a silicon slip mat in a large round or oval shape, thicker on the outer edges and bake for thirty minutes to set the meringues shape. If you can drop the temperature even further to 100 C/ 210 F/ Gas mark ¼ or prop the oven door open for another hour. Turn the oven off and allow the meringue to cool.

National Baking Week

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We are in the middle of National Baking Week and at The Online Cookery School are posting a series of classic cake and biscuit recipes as well as traditional Christmas Pudding and Christmas Cake recipes to help you get ready for the festive season in plenty of time. We have also added a useful new page with handy temperature conversions.

So if you are curious about why we eat a Victoria Sponge when we have afternoon tea, would like a recipe for perfectly crisp Almond Shortbread Biscuits or delicious Strawberry Milkshake and White Chocolate Cupcakes then why not have a look at the blog. And with four more days to go, there are more recipes to get you dusting off your rolling pin, putting on an apron and baking.

Taking the Biscuit – Almond Shortbread

You say that something or someone (really)

takes the biscuit when they have done

something that you find extremely annoying or surprising

Cambridge Dictionary

I am very partial to a biscuit, a digestive or two dipped in my tea and who does not like custard creams, which always remind me of the Church fêtes of my childhood, scrambling for the biscuits in the tea tent trying to avoid being left with the rich teas. As you get older your horizons widen and there are dark chocolate dipped ginger thins, brandy snaps filled with cream or a world of cookies in all their delicious variations.

Shortbread

My all-time favourite bought in biscuit has to be all butter shortbread, Walkers of Aberlour are one of Scotland’s biggest exporters with a turnover of over £100 million a year, their distinctive tartan packages are recognised all over the world, so someone else must like shortbread too. On the island of Anglesey, they bake a rich shortbread marked with or baked in scallop shells called Teisennau Berffro or James Cakes. In American recipes, the shortbread is often whipped up and piped while the crumblier traditional recipes gently rolled and cut.

Traditional shortbread is made from only three ingredients flour, butter, and sugar in a 3:2:1 ratio. The type and quality of butter are important as the butter gives the shortbread flavour so I guess I am lucky to have wonderful Channel Islands butter to hand. Unsalted butter is fresher than salted ( which acts as a preservative ) and is my preference.

The following recipe includes almonds for a delicious flavour, which might anger shortbread purists and cornflour to maintain a light texture. So, should call this recipe shortbread or am I despicably taking the biscuit?  That is debatable but it certainly produces a crisp, dainty tea time treat.

Almond Shortbread   around 12 to 16 biscuits

100 gr Plain Flour

50 gr Ground Almonds

50 gr Cornflour

140 gr Salted or Unsalted Butter, diced and kept cold in the refrigerator until required

100 gr Caster Sugar, plus a little extra to dust

1 tablespoon Cold Water

1 teaspoon Almond Essence

Preheat the oven to 325 F / 160°C/ Gas mark 3. Place the flour, cornflour, and almonds in a food processor and add the butter. Blend together for a couple of minutes then add the sugar. Blend until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Then add water and almond essence, using the pulse setting combine the ingredients into a paste stopping as soon as the mixture binds together as to not overwork the dough.

Roll out a sheet of cling film onto your work surface and spoon on the paste in a line. Roll tightly in the cling film to make a sausage-shaped parcel, tying the ends. Refrigerate for at least an hour until hard. Take out from the refrigerator and slice using a sharp knife into three quarters of a centimeter-thick slice and place on a baking tray covered with either baking parchment or a silicon slip mat. Sprinkle with some extra caster sugar and bake in the preheated oven for 10–15 minutes or until lightly golden. Once out of the oven allow the shortbread rounds to rest for 10 minutes.