Black Doris plum and coconut clafoutis

How familiar are you with the collected works of Enid Blyton? If you’re considering choosing the English writing powerhouse as a Mastermind topic, I’d think again. She churned out hundreds and hundreds of books, short stories and other pieces during her lifetime – that’s a lot of Faraway Trees, Naughtiest Girls and Famous Fives, among others. Wikipedia says she’s the seventh-best-selling fiction author of all time, with an estimated 600 million copies sold. (In case you still want to refresh your memory, the Enid Blyton Society should be able to answer your every query.)

Black Doris clafoutis

Many of her works seem hopelessly outdated now, reflecting the morals (and quite frankly, sexist and racist attitudes) of another time, but they still capture children’s imaginations with their adult-free adventures. Most recently I’ve been reacquainting myself with the boarding school stories (the St Clares’ and Malory Towers series’), in which midnight feasts, pranks and being sent to Coventry all feature frequently.

The midnight feasts all involve secret stashes of tinned goodies like condensed milk, pineapple and sardines (sometimes eaten together, such is the desperate creativity of the boarding school pupil) and bottles of ‘pop’. I’m not sure I could stay awake long enough for a midnight feast these days but if I was planning one based on tinned food I’d make sure to include Black Doris plums. Can’t you imagine slurping them down with a splash of condensed milk, perhaps with a slice of ginger cake from Janet’s aunt?

If your tastes are somewhat more adult and respectable, you might like to try the plums in this pudding. A clafoutis is a simple French pudding, traditionally made with cherries. I won’t tell them that we’re bending the rules if you don’t.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND COCONUT CLAFOUTIS

It should go without saying that any leftovers are delicious cold for breakfast. If you like, reserve the syrup and heat it up to pour over the finished pudding when serving.

  • 1 x 800g tin Black Doris plums, drained and stones removed
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1/3 cup plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 cup coconut cream (I use the Ayam brand, which comes in a 270g tin)
  • 50g white chocolate, roughly chopped (optional)
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish (like a 25cm enamel pie plate) and set aside.

Put the eggs, vanilla, sugar, flour and coconut cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth and pour into the prepared dish. Push the plums down into the batter and scatter over the white chocolate (if using).

Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and set in the middle. Leave for five minutes, then dust with icing sugar and serve in wedges with a dollop of coconut yoghurt or cream.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Goodness knows the world could use a few laughs right now, but this recipe is no joke. It’s what you make when you suddenly realise you have people coming for dinner and you need to whip up some sort of small, elegant pudding that will round out the night nicely. These almost-instant fools are the answer.

Having spent a somewhat gin-soaked summer – I got three bottles of the good stuff for Christmas (one of them was a miniature, before you plan an intervention) – I’ve been enjoying finding different ways to use them. Mostly we’ve drunk them neat or with a little ice, especially the Little Biddy West Coast Botanical Gin from Reefton Distilling Co and Bloody Shiraz Gin from Four Pillars Gin in the Yarra Valley. The latter is also really good to sip while you’re nibbling squares of very dark chocolate (sensitive souls will need to brace themselves for the resulting headache the next morning).

These little fools, however, I made with the contents of the miniature – Malfy Lemon Gin from Italy. You could use any gin, really, but once you’ve tasted the craft variety the standard gins seem a little rough around the edges. If you’ve got lemon curd stashed away (here’s a super-easy recipe), this takes minutes to make.

Instant gin and lemon fools

Serves 4

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1/2 cup lemon curd

4 Tbsp gin

50g white chocolate, finely chopped (optional)

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until combined. Divide between four small glasses. Chill for at least 20 minutes before serving with little crisp biscuits (this shortbread would be excellent). Cheers!

Like finding creative ways to use gin? These gin recipes might tickle your fancy…

How to make mascarpone

Ever been at home and experienced a mascarpone emergency? You know, that feeling you get when you really need a tub of thick, luscious cultured cream but you know the corner shop won’t have any and you can’t be bothered going to the supermarket? Well, let me save you. Here’s a dead easy way to make mascarpone at home that doesn’t require faffing about with straining through layers of cheesecloth and other such hassles. This is a two-ingredient wonder that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Homemade mascarpone

There are more recipes for mascarpone than you can shake a stick at – and a lot of argument about which method is better, or more authentic. I’m not interested in wading into that quagmire, especially since I don’t have any claims to knowing the secrets of Italian grandmothers. However, I do know the way my mother used to make it and it works a charm. All you need is a thermometer and a bit of patience.

1 litre cream

1/4 tsp tartaric acid

Pour the cream into a bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the cream reaches 90C. When this happens, add the tartaric acid and stir for 30 seconds. Remove the pot from the heat and stir for another two minutes (at a leisurely pace, don’t work up a sweat), then remove the bowl from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Unless you’re in a very warm climate, you can safely leave the cream at room temperature for about four hours. By this time the cream should have thickened considerably. Give it a stir, then cover and put it in the fridge for at least three hours before using – ideally overnight.

I find it thick enough by this point, but you can always strain it through a layer of new cheesecloth or similar if you want the end result to be very thick. The resulting cheese will keep for more than a week in the fridge – but since I can just about eat it straight from the bowl I never have a problem with using it up. If you need more inspiration, there’s this Black Doris and white chocolate tiramisu, this tagliatelle with smoked trout and mascarpone and this breakfast dessert option – raspberries, walnuts and mascarpone on toast.

Last Christmas…

Last week I wrote a ‘best of times, worst of times’ kind of essay on Christmas food (and much more besides) for Your Weekend magazine. I ran out of room to include this section, which looks back at last Christmas. How can it be a year ago?

Coconut Eton Mess with berries and pomegranate molasses

Christmas Day 2016, Wellington

My brother stands in the kitchen, taking the cork out of a bottle of champagne. My sister puts on her glasses to read a recipe on her phone. My husband rinses grit off a pound of West Coast whitebait while my nephew patiently teaches my daughter how to play Old Maid. My brother-in-law explains a complex psychological theory to me while I wrangle two kilos of pork loin into a roasting dish. I have been looking forward to this for months – Christmas under my own roof, with visitors from far away. Not even the discovery that our ancient car was stolen overnight bothers me. I have taken the advice of the kind woman on the insurance helpline who told me at 8am that “there’s nothing we can do about it today, just enjoy Christmas”.

Weeks earlier, I had not felt so good. I had just started a new job and was more unsettled by the Kaikoura earthquake than I wanted to admit. I needed a distraction and the Christmas menu fitted the bill perfectly.  I send emails to my siblings; my brother responds with a link to a Fanny Craddock clip on YouTube. My sister directs me to a Nigella Lawson recipe. I show my husband a photo. “Excellent choice,” he says. “But we’re having a ham too, right? And whitebait?”

In the end we have all of these things, plus new potatoes dug out of the garden on Christmas Eve. My brother makes a kind of Eton Mess with coconut yoghurt, cranberry-studded meringues and swirls of pomegranate molasses. My daughter makes us pose for family portraits with the hideous robotic toys she has been sent for Christmas. We laugh so much the neighbours must think we are mad. We want for nothing.

Later that night I crawl into bed, thinking about the person who stole our car. They broke into our neighbour’s car too, stealing his five-year-old’s brand new bike. I don’t care so much about our car, but I hope the bike has made someone happy.

 

Wherever you are this Christmas, I hope you have a happy and safe one with people you love.

A mea culpa (& a white chocolate tiramisu)

This is a story I may have told before, but bear with me. Once upon a time, when I worked at a regional newspaper, a very, very angry reader drove all the way out to the office with a plate of biscuits he’d made. This wasn’t a gesture of generosity, but of rage. He’d made the biscuits to a recipe that was published in the newspaper and he was disappointed by the results. He complained that they were inedible and that we must have left the sugar out by accident. I apologised profusely and said I’d check the recipe with its author.

When I did, she was bemused. “No,” she said, “there’s no mistake. They’re just not very sweet biscuits.”

This is NOT a tiramisu – it’s the raspberry and lemon posset that appears alongside it in the original publication. We ate the test tiramisu too fast to photograph it (it’s that good!)

This was no comfort to the angry man, who was nearing apoplexy. After he calmed down a bit he revealed that he’d made the biscuits for the nurses who were looking after his ill wife in hospital. These nurses had then complained that they weren’t very nice (I know!). So really, it wasn’t about the biscuits at all. In the end we parted on good terms and the rest of the newsroom got some unexpected morning tea. He was right, the biscuits weren’t that nice, but they were made to the exact recipe.

I’m bringing this up now because this week I made a mistake in a recipe printed in The Dominion Post, the Waikato Times and The Press. I left an instruction out and this has made some readers very cross. I picked it up quick enough for it to be amended online, but once a runaway horse has bolted the print stable it’s very hard to get it back.

So, if you are looking at my recipe for Black Doris plum and white chocolate tiramisu and thinking, ‘where does the melted chocolate go?’, I’m sorry. The full recipe is below – with the missing instruction in bold. I wish I could say that there was a good reason for the error but the truth is, I’m only human. I will be more careful next time. Thank you to the people who have gotten in touch (even the ones who sent some rather cross emails) – I hope the mistake doesn’t put you off making the tiramisu because it really is delectable.

BLACK DORIS PLUM AND WHITE CHOCOLATE TIRAMISU
Serves 6-8
Preparation time: 30 minutes (plus 6-12 hours’ chilling time)
Cooking time: nil
A classic tiramisu is a heady confection of coffee and dark chocolate – delicious, but a recipe for a terrible night’s sleep. This fruity version is slightly lighter but no less delectable. To make it alcohol-free, use extra syrup from the plums as the liquid. Look for the Italian sponge fingers, also known as savoiardi, in the “international foods” section of the supermarket, or try a Mediterranean foods store.
1 x 825g tin black doris plums in syrup
200g white chocolate
4 eggs, separated
4 tablespoons caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
250g mascarpone
5 tablespoons limoncello
16-20 Italian sponge fingers
Set a sieve over a bowl. Pour in the plums and leave to drain for a few minutes. Reserve the syrup. Remove all the stones from the plums. Mash them slightly with a fork and set aside.
Break up 150g of the chocolate and put in a small bowl that will fit snugly into the top of a small saucepan. Put about three centimetres of water in the saucepan and set over medium heat. Don’t let the water boil. As soon as the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat (being careful not to get any water in the chocolate). Set aside.
Put the egg yolks, caster sugar and lemon zest in a bowl. Whip until pale, thick and mousse-y (using electric beaters is easiest). Fold in the mascarpone and the melted white chocolate.
Wash and dry the beaters, ensuring there is no egg yolk mixture left on them. Put the egg whites in a separate bowl and whip until they form stiff peaks. Fold them very gently into the egg yolk mixture.
Pour the limoncello and five tablespoons of the reserved plum syrup into a shallow dish. Dip about eight to 10 sponge fingers into this liquid, then fit them into the bottom of a glass bowl (the sort that your mum makes trifle in).
Pour half the egg and mascarpone mixture on top, followed by half of the plums. Dip the remaining sponge fingers into the liquid and arrange neatly on top of the plums. Spread the remainder of the plums on top, followed by the remaining egg mixture.
Roughly chop the remaining 50g white chocolate and sprinkle over the top. Cover tightly and chill for at least six hours (preferably overnight) before serving.