Tuesday, April 28, 2015

(French) Onion Soup: the easier way

So I had a bundle full of gentlemen coming over to hang out, play games and be of good cheer. I was asked if I could make them lunch. Thankfully, I was also after a new Heston Blumenthal dish to try - one that scaled well, and didn't take too much trouble for an easy weekend. French Onion soup it is.

Onion Soup

Heston Blumenthal at Home

This recipe makes good use of one of Heston's often mentioned star anise in onion. Which makes sense, because onion soup is largely onion and stock. In a good way. A delicious, caramelised brown bowl of tastiness.

Caramelise onion

To start, take some oil...

 a lot of onion...
 and some star anise.
 Start cooking and stirring...
 Keep going until it is lightly caramelised


Add some butter and cold water.
Then put it in the oven for seven hours at 90 degrees. It will then look a bit like this. Don't worry, it's not as crusty and unpleasant as it looks. 


Remove the star anise

This may take some hunting.
Then de-glaze with some white wine, then cook to reduce the wine away.


Add the liquids

Add the beef stock and simmer.
For 20 minutes.

Then add some Madeira, and let it simmer for another 20 minutes.
Add some more Madeira (I skipped this, feeling it was boozy enough) and salt and pepper.

Time to make the toast!

Pan fry some sourdough in butter.

Smear them with Dijon mustard, cover them in Gruyere cheese and grill.

Serve soup, with cheesy toast floating/wallowing in the thick soup, scattered with artistic chives. Regular chives would also be acceptable.

Lessons learned

  • Recipe, as is often the case for Heston, makes way more than you need. For example, you only need one slice of bread per person. I had all strapping young gents and even they found it plenty.
That's it really. It went pretty well to plan.


Another good, easy recipe that need elapsed time but not a huge amount of active time. Of course, caramelising the onions took longer than the 15 minutes Heston claims, but I've found recipes always underestimate that time. A note to those not familiar with this dish - it is more filling than you'd expect.

Guest verdict

The gentlemen gathered at lunch all enjoyed the soup very much.
My favourite comment was from a guest who'd never had a from-scratch onion soup before. "So this is what French onion soup actually tastes like! I feel like I've been lied to my whole life."

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dessert: Banana Eton Mess

Hello all the people reading this. This week I had an influx of readers from Russia! Who would of thought the love of Heston Blumenthal would be so far! It could be my sparkling wit and joie de vivre but let's not kid ourselves, hey?

Banana Eton Mess

Heston Blumenthal at Home
This was a back up dessert. I was pretty worried about how the previous Pain Perdu with Bacon and Egg Ice cream would go, so made this as well.

'Traditional' Eton mess uses strawberries, but Heston says bananas are also authentic. You know what bananas were? In season. So - banana Eton mess it is.

This recipe has a few components:
  • Meringues
  • Hazelnut brittle
  • Banana puree
  • Lime cream


Since this was a second, back up dessert... I cheated an bought some. 

Hazelnut brittle

Roast the hazelnuts in the oven.

Or be lazy and toast them in a frypan.

Now to make the caramel. This is a wet caramel - that is, one that starts out with water in it, that gets heated off. So it goes from this...

To this...

Then we add the hazelnuts...
 And coat them....

 And leave them to cool on baking paper.

Now all you have to do is avoid eating them all before you need them.... Tasty... tasty...

Banana puree time!

After making those hazelnuts, you are probably thinking... you know what this needs? More caramel!

Unrefined caster sugar...

Into a dry burn caramel ...

Drop in some bananas...
Then de-glaze the pan with rum.

Put the caramel-coated bananas into the food processor...

 And whiz until a smooth puree. Pop it into the fridge to chill completely.

Lime cream

Whip cream and lime juice together.


Make piles of meringue, hazelnut brittle, lime cream, extra chopped banana, and banana puree. Top with extra brittle and lime zest! Done!

Lessons learned:

  • Lime juice can be a tad overpowering. Add to taste, rather than believing things boldly like "juice of 4 limes"
  • Bananas should be very ripe. Mine were just ripe, but needed a bit more banana flavour oomph.


  • I liked it, but thought the strawberry sort-of-Eton-mess - Diamond Jubilee Strawberry Crumble Crunch was nicer. 
  • It was easy to make.
  • Lime was a bit overpowering, taking over from the banana which was disappointing.

Guest opinions:

In a case of damned with faint praise, the guests thought it was nice... but just nice.
Super taster husband noted the bananas had a faint 'green banana' flavour that carried through the dish.
The hazelnut brittle was the most well liked component. I'd probably consider making just that on its own. Yum.

Next: French Onion Soup. The laziest version ever.