Semi Tropeziennes with Orange Custard and Strawberries

Today please allow me to take you to France, as French is the inspiration behind this dessert – at least on paper. This recipe comes from Amuse Bouche, a wonderful French baking blog I regularly follow and turn to for new ideas. In all frankness, if her recipe already couldn’t be called a ‘Tropezienne’, I’m guessing my even less canonical version is something purists would turn up their noses to. By definition, a ‘Tarte Tropezienne’ is a soft and indulgent brioche bun topped with sugar crystals and encasing a mixture of two creams (crème patissière and French butter cream). As is usually the case, the French are very proud of the origin of this dessert. You can read all about it on the Tarte Tropezienne’s official website.

I decided to tweak the original recipe a little bit: I changed the amount of flour used in the brioche dough and added some orange zest to it, modified the custard recipe by using some citrus zest and changed the fruit to strawberries. Also, somewhat unorthodoxly, I opted for custard powder in the custard as opposed to plain cornflour. You see, I think custard powder lends a golden yellow hue to the finished product which I really love and, despite trying more than once, I am still to achieve the same intense colour by using just cornflour. As for the strawberries, use small ones. I was lucky enough to find them in one of my local shops. However, any small berry would do, really, although maybe opt for a red one wherever possible to keep the dramatic contrast with the golden brioche and filling.

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Ingredients (for 6 small brioche buns)

  • 125ml whole milk
  • 50g golden caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 375g strong bread flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet instant dried yeast
  • zest of 1 1/2 oranges
  • demerara sugar, to sprinkle on top (optional)
  • milk, to brush on top

Ingredients (for the custard)

  • 300ml whole milk
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium egg yolks
  • 2 1/2 tbsp custard powder
  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • zest of 1 lemon

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 250g mini strawberries, washed and hulled
  • icing sugar (optional)

Method

  1. To make the brioche dough, scald the milk in a saucepan over a medium heat, but don’t let it come to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. In a glass/small bowl, combine the yeast with a teaspoon of the golden caster sugar. Transfer the flour, salt, egg, remaining sugar, zest and butter in the bowl of a freestanding food mixer.
  2. Add 4 tbsp of the warm milk to the yeast and sugar mixture, then allow to stand for 10-15 minutes until the mixture is frothy. Add this and the remaining milk to the rest of the ingredients, then use the hook attachment to combine them until they form a soft and pliable dough which comes away from the sides of the bowl. Shape the dough to a ball, then transfer it to a large oiled/buttered bowl, cover with clingfilm and allow to prove in a warm environment for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  3. In the meantime, make the custard. Add the lemon and orange zest to the milk, then pour into a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium heat. In a large bowl, combine the egg yolks, custard powder and sugar. It will be a fairly stiff mixture, but don’t worry. Add some of the warmed milk to loosen it up, then slowly pour in the remaining hot milk over the egg mixture, whisking constantly to ensure there are no lumps. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and put it back on the hob, whisking constantly. Don’t be tempted to increase the heat or it might scramble the eggs. The custard powder will stabilize the mixture but it will also thicken it quite quickly, so ensure you keep on whisking or you will end up with large lumps.
  4. Once the mixture has thickened enough to easily cover the back of a spoon, remove from the heat and add the butter (cubed), whisking constantly to melt it. Transfer the custard to a shallow bowl, cover with clingfilm to avoid creating a skin on top and allow to cool before transferring to the fridge to set completely.
  5. Once the brioche dough has proven, remove from the bowl and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Shape into a long log, then cut into 6 equal pieces (8 is also possible, but they’ll end up being very small). To shape each brioche bun, use your hands as if they were small cages, gently press them on the brioche buns and roll them around to ensure they are perfectly smooth and have no bumps. Gently transfer to 2 lined trays (3 each), ensuring the brioches have enough room to expand during proving and baking. Cover with oiled clingfilm and allow to prove for another hour.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly brush the risen buns with some milk, sprinkle with the demerara sugar (optional), then bake the brioche for 20 minutes or until hollow to the sound when tapped underneath. Allow to cool completely before you proceed with the next step.
  7. To assemble the semi Tropeziennes, use a serrated knife to cut each bun in half horizontally, then arrange the mini straberries on the cut side so that they are equally spaced and there is some room in between them. Transfer the custard to a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle, then pipe some custard in the gaps between the mini strawberries and put a large dollop in the middle. Arrange the remaining brioche half on top, dust liberally with icing sugar and serve. Enjoy!

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Green Store Cupboard Pasta

Picture the scene. You had a terrible day at work, your boss has probably shouted at you a couple of times and you clearly couldn’t see eye to eye with that client you were trying to help. It happens to all of us. I was stuck in a dead-end job for 2 years before embarking on a more exciting career and believe me, I had plenty of these days. Rather than coming home, pouring yourself a large glass of wine and ordering a take-away to drown your sorrow, I will ask you to cook. ‘Not a chance,’ I hear you say. Think again. Cooking has a therapeutic effect, it helps to make you relaxed and you get to feel like a child again while pottering away and turning the kitchen into a battlefield.

In addition, this pasta dish requires no more than simply blanching the vegetables and cooking the pasta. Surely that isn’t asking too much? I have made this dish with whatever I had in my frozen garden (a Nigella-esque way of referring to the freezer) and in tins stashed away in my store cupboard. It couldn’t get any simpler. The goal here was to show you that with minimal effort, no real recipe and a lot of love, even comfort food can aspire to be a jaw-dropping beauty. I certainly hope I have succeeded.

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Ingredients

  • 500g pasta (tortiglioni or maccheroni would do)
  • 250g king prawns, shelled and deveined
  • 1 x 340g tin of sweetcorn (frozen is also good)
  • 300g frozen peas
  • 100g ricotta (creme fraiche/cream cheese/mascarpone also good)
  • 250g green beans
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • bunch of parsley, chopped

Method

  1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, tumble in the pasta and cook according to packet instructions. 5 minutes before draining, add the green beans, so that they can cook with the pasta but still retain their crunch.
  2. Meanwhile, heat some olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, then tumble in the frozen peas. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the minced garlic and a splash of water. Leave to simmer for 3 minutes, then add the frozen prawns and cook until pink. Don’t overcook or they will be too rubbery.
  3. Take the peas and prawns off the heat and add the ricotta and lemon juice, mixing well to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Drain the pasta and green beans, then transfer to a large bowl. Add the prawn mixture and tumble in the sweetcorn, then mix to combine. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.Arrange on a serving platter and decorate with the chopped parsley and the lemon zest. Enjoy!

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German Fried Egg Cake (Spiegeleierkuchen)

The last few weeks have been massively busy. This is the last week of teaching at university, which means students are extremely stressed about their final exams and trainers are on their feet too, trying to coordinate everything. Intense but very rewarding. I have also recently been on a mini-break to Wales, Port Talbot to be precise. Although the coastal town didn’t correspond to my idea of a good time, I have to say I was amazed by Cardiff and the hip and modern vibe which pervades the city. I particularly loved the various arcades with their little cafes and weird shops tucked in. A true gem.

Now, on to something completely different. I will be going to Germany for a birthday party in June, so what best way to get in the right frame of mind than to make this, a German fried egg cake? I have a penchant for weird cakes and this makes no exception. The recipe comes from Sprinkle Bakes (quantities slightly modified), a new baking blog I started to follow quite recently. Highly recommended if you, like me, want to push the boundaries of traditional baking. Use white sugar in the custard layer – I prefer golden caster sugar for the sponge, but an unrefined sugar would not give you the white end result you need here. As for gelatine, you can leave it out and glaze the top with apricot jam – although that would spoil the overall appearance – or a simple sugar syrup (sugar and water boiled together).

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Ingredients (for the sponge)

  • 344g plain flour
  • 325g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 170g unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 1 large egg
  • 245ml Greek yogurt (creme fraiche or sour cream also good)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the vanilla custard)

  • 1L whole milk
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 130g cornflour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients (for the topping)

  • 1 x 400g tin of apricot halves in juice, drained and pat-tried
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 4 tbsp recently boiled water
  • 1 leaf of gelatine
  • sugar crystals and poppy seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Grease and line a 10x10cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper, ensuring the sides are fully covered and that the paper is overhanging – this will make it easier to remove the cake once assembled. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. To make the sponge, use a freestanding mixer to cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add the egg whites and the whole egg one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining dry ingredients (flour, salt and raising agent). In a jug, combine the Greek yogurt and the vanilla extract.
  3. If you see that the mixture is curdling, start adding the flour one tablespoon at a time. Pour in the rest of the dry ingredients and give that a quick mix, then add the yogurt mixture and combine until smooth (but don’t overmix or the cake will be tough!).
  4. Transfer the cake batter to the greased and lined tin, then use a spatula to spread it in the corners. Try and create a small indentation in the centre of the cake tin so that, once risen and baked, the cake will be somewhat even. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  5. If your cake is not even on the top, use a serrated knife to cut the extra bits off.
  6. To make the vanilla custard, combine the cornflour and the sugar in a bowl, then add 1/4 of the milk and mix very thoroughly until completely lump-free. Pour the remaining milk into a saucepan and heat over a gentle heat until it reaches simmering point, then add the cornflour mixture and the vanilla and start mixing. Keep on mixing until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. You want a slightly thicker than average custard so that the cake will hold its shape once assembled, so do keep on cooking it over a medium heat and mixing constantly until very thickened.
  7. Once ready, pour over the cooled cake in the cake tin and spread evenly. Arrange the pat-dried apricot halves on the cake (cut side down), then gently press them into the vanilla custard. Transfer the cake to the fridge for at least one hour or until fully cold and set.
  8. To make the gelatine glaze, soak the gelatine leaf in cold water for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, combine the water and the sugar, and mix until the sugar has fully dissolved. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine leaf, then add to the water mixture and dissolve it completely. Use a pastry brush to apply a thin gelatine coating onto the set cake (you might not need all of it), then place back into the fridge until set.
  9. To serve it, I decided to use poppy seeds to mimick ground black pepper and crushed sugar crystals to replicate salt, but you could also decide to go plain. Enjoy!

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