Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dessert: Pear and frangipane tarte tartin

I love pear tartin. It's warm and delicious and a perfect winter dessert. I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while, and so what better to try to find my cooking mojo again?

This one adds frangipane - that kind of almond filling - for extra 'almond notes'. Or tastiness. If you're not a chef.

Pear and frangipane tarte tartin

Heston Blumenthal at Home


1. Make the poaching liquid
2. Poach the pears
3. Prepare the pears
4. Make the frangipane mix
5. Assemble
6. Cook and serve.
The simplest versions of these recipes I've seen are a basic cook some apples in a frypan - add pastry kind of deal. Like a few Heston dishes though, this involves more components then assembled together - so all the flavours are there, but not necessarily cooked together.


Make the poaching liquid

Being fairly fond of poached pears, I've poached them a few times before - usually in some kind of wine/sugar mix. Poaching in a caramel sauce? That's new. This is a spiced caramel based. So, gather my ingredients.

Now, make a dry burn caramel. Not for the faint of heart, this is putting a bunch of sugar in a hot pan...

 and carefully waiting until it partially liquefies, and then gently pushing it around until it's all liquid, while simultaneously watching the temperature management so it doesn't burn.

Add some unsalted butter... and mix until dissolved completely.

Then add pear juice.

Then you add in all the flavourings - lemon and orange zest, peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, vanilla pods and honey. These are simmered without boiling for 20 minutes.

Once cooled and strained, this give us our poaching liquid. (Cooling takes awhile - hence I made the poaching liquid the day before I wanted to cook the pears.)


Poach the pears

Now you need to poach the pears. First step, try every saucepan you own to see which one fits all of your who;e pears, with a tall side. This may take some time. (sigh).
Peel and core your pears. I've misplaced my corer, so I used the alternate I had to hand -  which is a pointy peeler kind rather than a circular through-cutter kind. I was worried this would be an issue but it was fine. (I'm only mentioning it in case anyone else worries about not having the exact tool something calls for).
And after all that, find out it was easier than I expected, because pears float. 
Once they are poached (mine took about 20 minutes I think?) they are cooled in the liquid, so they can absorb all those spiced caramel flavours so more. 
Here they are.

Prepare the pears

Once they are cooled, you need to prep them. I found the instructions on this completely perplexing. "Remove the pears from the poaching liquid and place them upright on a board, discarding the liquid." Okay, I can do that

"Using a sharp knife, cut across the cored middle of each pear, stopping halfway down. Repeat twice at equal intervals around the pear. Each pear will now have six equal 'petals'. Reserve in the fridge until needed."  Wait, what?!

I read this a bunch of times, and just could not figure out what he meant. And then I decided to just have blind faith, and do exactly what it said and see what happened.
"Using a sharp knife, cut across the cored middle of each pear, stopping halfway down."
I cut directly down, halfway into the height of the pear.

"Repeat twice at equal intervals around the pear."

"Each pear will now have six equal 'petals'."

Huh.  So there you go. Not how I imagined, and larger than I expected, but there you are.

Make the frangipane

This is fairly straightforward. Take all your ingredients - butter, icing sugar, eggs, almonds and a little flour and whisk them together.


These get placed into a piping bag for later assembly.


Now for the bit where the components come together. Butter and sugar is rubbed together to place in the bottom of the dishes.

Store bought puff pastry gets rolled out thinly and then cut to fit the dishes.

Place the pear flowers on the pastry.

Pipe in the frangipane mix. Become really annoyed that of course, because it's been refrigerated, its now hard an un-pipable. Let it warm up a bit. Do the suggested center filled with frangipane.  

Decide this is not much (especially after looking at the huge amount left over) and pipe some more around the flowers.

With no small amount of awkwardness, flip the pears and pastry into your tartin dishes. Realise that this is a bit silly, because they don't stay together. Pull the pastry off each so you can adjust the pears better.
Realise the dishes, despite being exactly the size called for, are actually a bit small for the pretty pear flowers to fit. Fudge them around into a kind of swirl so they fit the dish, and press the pastry around the sides. 

Cook and serve

Bake in the oven, the let cool slightly.

Turn out and serve with cream or icecream.



Things I learned:

  • Next time use larger tartin dishes, so the pretty flowers can stay looking like flowers. Or slice the pears and fit prettily into the dish.
  • Halve the amount of frangipane.


Guest verdicts:

  • “Tasty. A bit rich, but good."
  • "Yum!"


  •  I really liked this. I ate a leftover one the next day and I think the flavours were even better. You could absolutely assemble everything ready to go and just prep the morning of your dinner party and have it come out great. I think next time I've try slicing the pears up and make one large one also.
  • You could definitely taste the spices in the caramel poaching liquid. It was, as one guest noted, much richer than a standard poached pear - so small servings definitely a good idea here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quiche Lorraine

It's winter. What a nice time to have a warming quiche.

Quiche Lorraine

(from Heston Blumenthal at Home)

Quiches are quite popular in our house, given a general love of eggs and bacon. Add cream and cheese and it isn't hard to see why this dish is a classic for many a home. So, can Heston improve on a great dish? 
So the recipe has the following steps:
  1. Make your pastry in a mixer. 
  2. Chill
  3. Cook onions
  4. Cook the bacon
  5. Prep your pastry base
  6. Make the filling
  7. Bake the filling in the prepared case
Superficially, apart from the making your own pastry from scratch, this seems like the quiche I'm commonly known to make. But... it's Heston, so no. Not the same except at a superficial level.

Make your pastry in the mixer

This is one of my new favourite ways of making shortcrust pastry. Flour, salty and butter go into a mixer.

Then get processed until they look like breadcrumbs.

Then, switching to a dough hook, gets added some cold water and some egg.

Yup, dough. Very short shortcrust. Feel amazing at how easier that was than using your hands. How old-school you once were.

The lump like this one below (nicely shaped into a flat disc) goes into the fridge to rest, giving the gluten a chance to chill out. (sorry... couldn't help myself).

Cook some onions

Time to get started on the filling. Slice up a lot of onion. Realise you used some of your brown onions on stir-fry earlier in the week and substitute in some red onions.

Into the nice heavy cast iron fry pan with oil...

Now, you should sauté them until soft and golden. Hmmm.. nope, still pale pastel insipid white-yellow.

But here's the thing. Onions, especially slow cooked ones are sneaky sods. The minute, nay the instant you turn your back to finish dicing bacon they will immediately go from  pale pastel insipid yellow to dark golden caramel. Sneaky. You are appropriately forewarned.

Cook the bacon

Take your lovely, from-the-butcher chunk of bacon. Do not buy the rubbish vacuum sealed stuff, you want good quality and thick. About a centimetre, or just under.

This makes for nice chunks. Sorry, I mean lardons.

Cook them in a your frying pan. Smelled so delicious.

Put them aside while you do the next bit of pastry wrangling.

Prep your pasty base

Roll it out to nice and thin.

Line a tart tin with the pastry. Put in some baking paper, and then fill with beans. Or barley, if that is what your pantry seems to have more than you need of.

After cooking for 20 minutes, it looks pretty good.

Unfortunately, then I had to trim off the excess pastry. Doing this does not tend to end well for me.This time was not exception. As for previous attempts, it cracked pretty badly when I did this. It was also not very deep. I am now wondering if extra deep pie tins are a thing for quiche, and perhaps my tart tin is on the shallow end of the tart tin gene pool.

I did fix this with Heston's neat 'liquid pastry' trick. It's kind of pastry spakfilla. Mix an egg and some raw pastry with a stab blender. Use this the cement any cracks, bits back together and so on. It works pretty well. Worth saving a chunk of excess pasty for at any rate.

Make the filling

This is the bit that is really quite different to other quiches I've made, and I strongly suspect ever eaten. You cook the filling on the stove before baking it in the case.

Eggs and cream...

Add the bacon, onion and some Emmental and Gruyere cheeses, plus salt, pepper and nutmeg.

This gets warmed up until it hits 63 degrees.

Yes, it's a savoury, very rich custard. With not as much egg as I would have expected from a quiche.(Only 3 eggs!)

Bake in the prepared case 

You might notice there are two dishes in there. As for my lemon tart, there was twice as much mixture as filled my tart tin. The tin is the correct size, it's got to be a depth problem. Or, perhaps, that Heston-over-zealous-quantities problem again.

Forty minutes later, or more like thirty something, once the inter filling hits 70 degrees, they're done. Here they are cooling off slightly.

And now it's ready to... put in the fridge for 24 hours.  This is apparently to ensure the filling sets properly.


Here it is, nicely golden. Okay not quite that golden, I was having photo issues again. I invited over a friend, warmed up the quiche and we were good to go.



I'm truly left wondering if I've been eating bacon and egg pie all these years, and not quiche at all, because flavours aside, this is quite a different beast. It was very, very rich - something that doesn't always agree with me. I liked the flavours overall but the texture was too squishy for me - I would have preferred it more eggy and solid. Also, super rich foods don't agree with me terribly well and this definitely qualified. I thought was richer than the Chicken in cream and sherry.. which says a lot really.

Guest verdict

Dinner guest was polite and said it was tasty. Husband is more familiar with this analyse-the-dish game and had a somewhat more specific and critical opinion. Namely:

  • There's too much onion. It tastes more like onion than just about anything else. 
  • He liked the bacon but thought the pieces were too big. 
  • He didn't like the custard texture at all - "if I wanted custard, I'd be eating custard. And it would be sweet. And not have onions in it."
  • And finally... "I like your normal one better."
Not exactly a resounding success, was it? Too rich, too much onion...

On the good points, I liked the pastry and would do that again. I'd certainly consider adjusting my usual egg/bacon/milk recipe by adding some cream. And a little onion. But I think I'll stick with cheddar. Very boorish of me, I know.

Next: I'm not sure... but I have Historic Heston now... so... ?

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."