How do you make unpleasant traditions awesome? The addition of Beer, of course.

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Mom always made trifle at Christmas. As a child I loathed soaked bread and strong alcohol, so I never looked forward to it.

When I informed people in these parts that I was going to continue the tradition this year because whythefucknot, the reaction from people was not what I’d expected.

Trifle evolved to what it roughly is now in the 17th Century, soaked cake with custard.  A hundred years later jelly was added, an ingredient I had never found in trifle back home.

But why the sad faces, guys?

Because its gross and no one likes it I learned when the mere mention of trifle made people laugh or reminisce about how awful it is.

Traditionally, trifle has sweet wine or sherry soaked cake. The first thing that came to mind when I found out no one like trifle was that sherry must be the culprit, since to my knowledge only old ladies like sherry.

As pastry and challenges are two of my favourite things, I thought, Fuck ‘Em. Immagonna make the best trifle ever.  And what do the British love most of all?

Beer.

I did have extreme doubts that this would be gross. I was very afraid to try it. But it may be one of the best things I have ever made. The process is long, none of you will ever make this I’m sure, but it was so delicious I had to send it out into the world.  And besides, it makes me think of stripey Christmas socks. How festive!

Here we go:

Orange Porter Trifle (what you’ll need, recipes to follow)

A large bowl, 4 liters, or like 8-10 glasses.

Darina Allen’s Irish Porter Cake or any cake that will be made better by adding beer (ie. nasty fruit cake your grandma brought over) — Sliced into 1/4 inch sliced, maybe 1 1/2in by 2 1/2in. Or whatever, figure it out. You’re a grown up, I can’t hold your hand over the interwebs.

Orange Curd

Vanilla Pastry Cream

Seedless Raspberry Jam

Stout Jelly

Cointreau for soaking

1 Orange

300 ml Whipped Cream, slightly sweetened.

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Irish Porter Cake

If I ever learn under Darina Allen at her school in Ireland, I will crap my pants with joy. This cake is strangely delicious on its own, but it is inherently dry and heavy with fruits, so the density lends itself to soaking.

112g Butter

112g Caster sugar

150ml Stout

Orange zest

112g Sultanas

112g Raisins

55g mixed peel (I used my own glace mix but you can buy this)

225g White flour

1/2 tbsp Baking Soda

2 tsp mixed spice (honestly, I just throw in cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice without measuring)

3 Eggs

Line a 6” round tin with parchment. Preheat oven to 350/180.

Melt butter, sugar, and butter, then add fruit and bring to the boil for 3-4 min, stirring all the while. Let cool to room temp.

Whisk dry bits together. Add fruit mixture, then add eggs. Don’t overmix.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer in the centre comes out clean. If eating as is, pour added stout over it when it comes out of the oven (I didn’t find the 1/4cup suggested was enough). Refrain from eating it for 2-3 days.

Stout Jelly

I made this with Russian Imperial Porter, a local brew of 13%. I highly recommend using the darkest, booziest stout you can find, with rich chocolate and spicy notes.

330ml Porter

100ml Water

100ml Sugar

2 1/4 sheets gelatin

2 tbsp Dutch Cocoa

Bloom gelatin. Heat sugar and water to simmer. Whisk in cocoa. Remove from heat and stir in soft gelatin until dissolved. Add beer and strain, let cool. To speed up the process, stick it in the fridge and stir every ten minutes until it thickens slightly.

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Line the base of the bowl with cake slices. Pour the thickened jelly over the cake until almost covered. Chill until it has set somewhat. Add the rest of the jelly and chill until set.

Orange Curd

75g Butter, cubed

60g Caster Sugar

2 Oranges, zest and juice

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

7g Corn Starch

Heat zest and juice to a simmer. Whisk sugar and eggs, add cornstarch. Be sure to whisk thoroughly to avoid lumps. Pour half the juice over the eggs, whisk, then add eggs to the sauce pan, and slowly bring to a boil, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken. Set aside to cool to body temp, stirring occasionally, then whisk in the butter. Cover and chill.

Pastry Cream

500ml Milk

4 Egg Yolks

10g Cornstarch

80g Sugar

1 Vanilla Pod

Heat milk and half the sugar with the scraped vanilla to infuse. For stronger flavour remove from heat, cover and let stand 20 min. Use the same method as directed for Orange Curd. When custard is cooked, pour into a bowl and cover with cling film to avoid a skin forming while it cools.

To Finish:

Begin to soak some slices of cake in Cointreau. Loosen the pastry cream and raspberry jam (separately) with a rubber spatula or paddle on a stand mixer (I have no such luxuries here). Pipe or spread a 3/4 inch layer of cream over the jelly. Follow with a thin layer of raspberry jam, just around the bowl — you don’t want the strong, sweet flavour of raspberry to over power the creams or the delicious, delicious stout. In this version I added berries, you can do this or not, considering fresh berries

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Add the slices of soaked cake and some orange segments.

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Pipe the curd and spread evenly. Top with fluffy whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

IMG_2553How did the people react?

One lady, whose terrible trifle experience she described as being “the first and last time I ever eat trifle” clutched the bowl and practically cried with joy when I told her she could keep the leftovers. Another with horrible childhood memories of trifle admitted mine to be surprisingly pleasant (but couldn’t finish his portion due to bad memories).

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As I’d never had trifle other than my mothers and the one we made at the hotel in London (the least ordered item on the menu, people apparently will order rice pudd before trifle), I ordered a mulled wine version up the road at a pub with a well-reputed chef.

Hate to say it…mine was much better.

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We are nowhere and it’s now.

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So maybe I don’t care much for being marooned in the country with little ability to communicate with my family or friends. And perhaps there is not a lot to do here but watch movies and bad British television or go stomping in the mud to watch the sea tractor leave shore without being on it.

Do I miss London?

I do not.

I miss writing my blog while drinking a flat white and enjoying a cream tea in Euphorium Bakery. A part of me misses the excitement of tube travel (mainly the shoving and feeling as though you’ve won the lottery when you get to a platform just in time)  and the beautiful architecture. And surely I am sad to be missing out on the pine flavoured ice cream at Chin Chin Labs.

The other day I feared for my life a bit as we three chefs barreled down a single-width devon road at 25 miles an hour in an attempt to get to Plymouth for some fried chicken before closing time. I felt as though we were actually traveling to Middle-earth, not a KFC, as the winding, hilly road sheltered by untrimmed hedges and towering, windblown trees was more akin to a roller coaster or the horror of Mr.Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyworld (which, when you are 7, is terrifying). After our meal, we popped into the gigantic 24 hr Tescos, which is like a Superstore, and ran around like kids in a candy shop. It was as though I’d forgotten what stores were like.

Being cooped up has indeed inflated my sense of appreciation for everything. Spending Christmas away from my family for the first time ever is rather upsetting, especially given my new-found appreciation for all things x-mas (ie. Snow, as Devon has none). It’s sad that I cannot see my family and amazing friends the first year I have free time during the holidays. I miss them so.

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However

Despite not having a home

Or contact with my loved ones

Or working in the restaurant I signed up for

I haven’t been this happy or comfortable with my existence in a long time, if ever.

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Before I left, a friend told me that moving to another country is very lonely but also very freeing. She was right.

I thought this post was my 50th, which in a year is not so impressive, but I don’t really care about being impressive, which is good because it is my 44th. In honour of this, I bothered my mother into pulling The Modern Cafe out of storage and sending me the recipe I intended to do right at the start of this business but kept putting it off. Mainly because I wanted to find edible ink to print some image on rice paper to garnish it just like Migoya’s. Finally I was like, fuck that. I do it my way.

So since I am in England and English people love things Canadians don’t have access too, and because the Sous Chef keeps chickens that produce the most beautiful and delicious eggs I have ever seen in my life, I decided to make the Chocolate Pot de Creme, served in the blue and brown egg shells as is suggested, but with an English twist.

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Jaffa Cake.

It is a sponge base with a disc of orange jelly and topped with a thin layer of dark chocolate. English people love Jaffa Cakes. I bought a box when I first arrived and ate the entire thing in front of the telly.

I wanted to make my own, like the Hobnob attempt, and I did bake some sponges, purchased the orange jelly and chocolate, but quickly lost interest.

Instead I used local ingredients (Devon Chili Chocolate from the chili farm 10 miles away), those award winning eggs (did he say that chicken breed beat Prince Charles’ hens?), and some chocolate covered honey comb — toffee to Canadians (the bubbly kind) seems to be a very popular confection around here.

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Chili Chocolate Pot de Creme (pg. unknown, oops) – Makes 12 eggs, 8 if no jelly is used.

218g Heavy Cream

60g Milk

40g Sugar

40g Egg Yolk

92g Chili chocolate (or regular chocolate, 64%)

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Migoya instructed me to throw it all in a pot together and whisk over low heat until 82 degrees, but I don’t want to stand over the stove for that long, nor do I want to aerate the mixture that much. Instead I heated the milk, cream, half the sugar to below a boil, whisked the rest of the sugar with the yolks, tempered them, then cooked it like an anglaise with with a spatula. He says one must pour over the chocolate and blend with a hand blender, but if you chop the chocolate finely, you can just stir them and pass through a sieve.

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I’m just gonna say right now that this recipe is fucking epic and I may use it for all things from now on.

I topped the eggs like so then boil for 10 minutes and peel out the membranes:

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You can also use a very dull bread knife to carefully slice the top off (the one in the photo with the clean edge, note I did not do that as I am not so skilled).

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I used the scary faux orange jelly that comes in dense jelly blocks instead of flavoured powders as in Canadia, but watered it down with Cointreau. The shop owners seemed happy to sell the bottle to me, as it had been sitting there for several years. Apparently Cointreau isn’t popular in St.Ann’s Chapel. Considering I’d never used these weird jelly cubes before and really just made it up, the recipe is sketchy and mostly useless:

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2 Scary Orange Jelly Cubes

50ml water

25ml Cointreau

 

Heat water and jelly in microwave to melt (burns very easily!), stir in Cointreau, pour into eggs halfway, let set in fridge. Top with chocolate cream and Honeycomb bits.

I wanted to know if you could masse (sugar coat) chili flakes, so I tried and it worked. Totally weird but less weird than garnishing a teeny dessert with plain flakes. To masse, just take the weight of flakes (or whatever you want to sugar) in sugar, add enough water to moisten the lot, bring to a boil, throw in the flakes and stir over heat until the sugar crystalizes and dries out. Bam, sweet heat.

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One nibble and you’re nobbled.

IMG_2160Oh, lovely Devon

Where it rains eight days of seven

Dear H sent me this English nursery rhyme to remind me of why I purchased my wellies.

I had always had a bit of a romantic dream of living or in the least escaping to the English countryside. Withnail & I, an English cult film about two Camdenites who “vacation by mistake” to a ramshackle country cottage only to find country living to be a bit more difficult than expected, has remained my all time favourite film for a solid decade, so a good part of me is trying to fully embrace this time in my life. So when it isn’t raining and incredibly windy and freezing, long walks have happened, though that’s not saying much. I do enjoy the multitude of clever fencing at the entrances and exits of the public pathways that are actually just farmers fields. IMG_2311

The majesty of Devon’s rolling hills cannot really be transmitted through iPhone photos, but they look a lot like this once you’ve found high ground/smashed through a shrub. IMG_2159

Despite the seemingly constant precipitation, I cannot say I thought there were pockets of England like this, which when driving through these lowland dips where all the water collects feels (to a Canadian keep in mind) like entering a tiny rainforest. A chilly, mucky rainforest that makes you want to slosh home for a nice cup of Bovril.

Of course, my ass couldn’t have predicted how bizarre Devon is either. Running away from London gave me hope of literally running. Breathing in the big city was almost too much for me, so pulling out my five fingers was not an option, even armed with an inhaler. The country, I thought, would be a grand place to get my heart rate going again. Never did I imagine all roads to wee St.Ann’s Chapel would look like this:IMG_2240

The only thing more terrifying than walking these roads are car rides down them. Amazingly, I think the only thing the single shop across the road does not sell is a safety vest.

They do however sell all the things that one would require to make traditional British goodies. God. Dammit.

So aside from working reading my way through several savoury cookbooks like Heston Blummenthal at Home on loan from the head chef, and reading 1Q84, the temptation to recreate these treats only for the sake of doing so is driving me insane.

Which means even though this is supposed to be an Italian resto, I’m not really learning much about Italian anything, so why not expose you, dear readers of mine to my interpretation of some terribly unhealthy British sweets (and maybe a pasty, gotta make some of those).

First up, the McVitie’s HOBNOB. Cause, you know, they are high in fibre.IMG_2335

Hobnobs are a line of oatmeal cookie biscuits that includes the Hobnob, the Milk Chocolate coated Hobnob, the Hobnob Chocolate Creams (small Hobnobs filled with cream), so basically whatever you can do to an oatmeal cookies biscuits the Scottish company have been doing since 1985. McVitie’s also produces a mean Gingernut.

A Hobnob isn’t a regular oatmeal cookie. It is very dry and short in texture, as though it were designed to be dunked in tea. It is very possible that they are made this way so that they soften up a day or two after they are opened with the damp that works its way into everything.

In order to recreate the dry, compressed biscuit with the “oaty nobbly” surface, I altered my gooey oatmeal cookie recipe. This recipe calls for butter, something Hobnobs do not contain, but swapping it for veg oil gives it more of a homemade taste.

Bitch’s Hobnob Biscuit

140g Whole grain flour

150g Quick oats

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

100g White sugar

112g Butter, cold and cubbed

1 egg

25g Golden syrup or Honey

 

Combine the dry, then rub in butter until the texture is sandy. Add egg and golden syrup and mix until it forms lose crumbs.IMG_2330

Line a baking tray with parchment, cover with an even layer of crumble, pressing down to keep it together. With another piece of parchment on top, roll with a pin or press with another tray until thin and compact.IMG_2331

Bake in a preheated oven at 180/350 for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven, press the biscuit carefully again to compress it. Cut into rounds, compressing more if needed. Let cool.IMG_2334

I used Galaxy chocolate because it was the only milk chocolate the shop has that isn’t the Happy Shopper brand. Personally, I find galaxy to be too sweet (at 25% cocoa solids). If you can find 35-40% milk choc, go for it. The flavour will be far more…grown up and less…straight from a plastic sleeve. IMG_2332

Yes, those little lumps in the galaxy chocolate were even more apparent when I melted it. Booo! No need to temper, Hobnobs aren’t dipped in superb chocolate, just don’t over heat it. I added some oil to help the viscosity.

A dinner fork yielded a passable but not ideal marks in the coating (dipping forks are recommended) but running a finger through the chocolate as it set looked better. IMG_2336

 

My Hobnobs aren’t perfect like McVities, but I think the perfectionist in me is slowly freezing to death or perhaps just hibernating in this chilly Devon kitchen. If only I had ground coffee. Tomorrow, a trip to the big city…to a town of 5,800. Weeeeeee………IMG_2337

Update: Wiki says HobNobs were available in Canada as of Nov. 2012.

At WalMart.

Bitch makes her first doughnuts, Italian style.

IMG_2132Happy December!

C said she forgot to mention that Devon kitchens are chilly places. And while cooler kitchens are preferred for pastrying, this is a bit much.IMG_2164

The windows have no glass, just chicken wire and vent plates, which has to do with the building’s age; it was built in the 16thC, so regulations require the air change 200 times a minute. Okay, so there is no snow on the ground, but having to wear a full sweatsuit under my whites and a hoodie over top, hood up and tied at the neck, makes it feel more like the holidays.

When I haven’t been warming myself over the grill, I’ve been working on Panettone.

Since this is an Italian restaurant, the chef wrote an Italian-style xmas menu. Unfortunately, he may have just written down several Anglo-Italian ideas without much thought, so I was stuck trying to bring the puddings on his menu to life.

Last week was the first time I had ever made panettone.

For my first batch, I went with a sourdough from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which allowed me to put to use Celine, the sourdough starter created to make my first sourdough: IMG_1975

The panettone took three days. Tasted alright, but it was a bit dry. And considering this is not having a slice with jam on January 3rd, the customary way of eating panettone, but a plated dessert, it couldn’t be dry.

The chef says it’s got to be an “easy” recipe, which seems to go against everything Wikipedia says about Panettone.

Martha Stewart’s was much like Reinhart’s, Nigella’s was written partially in Italian, so I didn’t understand the method (in all fairness, I don’t think it was Nigella’s, but a Nigella fan who posted on the site).

A Google search for “quick panettone” yielded several shops that ship the breads and a recipe by King Arthur Flour that only took about 5 hours including all the rising. The method was very weird and going through the process was horrifying to me, but I had faith.

It was shit.

Annoyed at by the fact that an easy recipe was a) cutting corners which rarely equals authenticity and b) ridiculous because I’m in the middle of bloody nowhere with no transport and nothing by spare time, the chef told to make a brioche with christmas fruits.

Did I mention I don’t have a mixer? Or electric hands?

I used Eddy Van Damme’s brioche recipe as it has a sponge base (guaranteed live, happy yeast in my eyes, as bread baking terrifies me) and uses invert sugar to help keep it moist.

It was beautiful, but after several plating attempts (soaking it, frosting it, slicing it, bread puddinging it), I realized panettone as a dessert was a terrible idea. I emailed my Italian friend, who laughed and said that serving the panettone with Devon cream was a poor pairing at best (this was not my idea) and that smearing it with Nutella or dunking it in espresso was the way to enjoy the bread.

A flash of panettone, sliced and toasted, stacked with little blister packs of Nutella flashed through my mind.

Though not traditional, in the end this was how I chose to serve it:IMG_2190

Italian bread served in the English countryside, New World style.

I blanched grapefruit (below) and orange peel for candying.IMG_2023

The currants, sultanas, and raisins are cooked in red wine with sugar, cinnamon, and star anise, drained tossed with the peel and glace cherries.IMG_2026

Rolled brioche flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon, speckled with  fruits, cut with the only cutter we have in this kitchen. The centres I had to cut with a piping tip. Boo.IMG_2197

After letting the rounds and holes rise to 70%, I fried them for 3 min on each side at 170C. IMG_2194IMG_2193

Obviously, I had to make the English folks a taste of Canadian culture – the Timbit. IMG_2196

After cooling, I enrobed the doughnuts with a browned butter glaze to give the bread a bit of sweetness. Go, gravity, go!IMG_2195

The wine used to soften and infuse the fruits was reduced and blended with a mixed berry coulis, to be heated with fruit bits before service.IMG_2198

The doughnut is topped with hardly sweetened whipped double cream and strands of candied lemon zest. It tastes like christmas. And with all this practice, it doesn’t seem that I knead a mixer, wah waaaaah. IMG_2191