Tuesday 20 February 2024

Going cheesy with Rhubarb and Ginger cheesecake

 

Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake

I always love the time in February when the young pink forced Rhubarb from the Rhubarb Triangle comes on the scene. The city of Wakefield in the north of England turns pink with the Rhubarb Festival for a weekend at the end of February. It’s one of the most important food and drink festivals in the national calendar.

We all love cheesecake so here’s a recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake which I was given at one of the talks I did in the Wakefield area. It’s just perfect for this time of year with an added hint of ginger to warm us up!

For the base
70g melted butter
170g ginger biscuits (crushed)
1 tbsp caster sugar

For the Rhubarb
300g rhubarb, trimmed and cu50g demerara sugar
Zest and juice of ½ orange

For the filling
200g mascarpone or cream cheese
1 balls of stem ginger (finely chopped)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
300ml double cream

Lightly grease a 20cm springform cake tin. Line the base with baking paper.

To make the base, crush the biscuits until fine. You can do this in a food processor.  Add the melted butter and mix. Pour into the tin and press firmly onto the base until it is an even layer. Chill while you prepare the Rhubarb and the filling.

Heat the oven to Mark 3, 160C (140C fan). Wash and cut the pieces and sprinkle demerara sugar, orange zest and orange juice over them.

Then cook them in the oven for about 15 minutes until tender. This way the Rhubarb retains its maximum flavour. Drain off any excess juices and allow to cool.

Beat the mascarpone until smooth. Add the chopped ginger and orange zest. Slowly whisk in the cream until the mixture has just thickened. Add the Rhubarb (keeping back 3-5 pieces of Rhubarb for decorations. Spoon the mixture into the biscuit-lined tin and spread into an even layer. Chill for 4-5 hours or overnight, until firm. Carefully release the springform tin and transfer the cheesecake to a serving dish or plate. Arrange the rhubarb pieces on the top to decorate.

 

And if you want to try more Rhubarb recipes, here are more from Grandma Abson’s collection :

Rhubarb Betty

Rhubarb Crumble

French Rhubarb Flan

Rhubarb Tart/Rhubarb Lattice Tart

Rhubarb Tutti-frutti Crumble

Thursday 18 January 2024

Going on a Railway Pudding journey

 
From Woodhead to Doncaster

In June 2023, I finally launched a book of my late father's railway photos, entitled 'From Woodhead to Doncaster. A pictorial Railway Journey’ by Fred Abson. The photos and detailed text comprised signal boxes, bridges, crossings and junctions, signal box diagrams along the Woodhead route and the MS&W Railway between 1979 and 1982 as well as photos of Deltics at Doncaster Plant works in the early 1980s.

Growing up on a railway station left me with many memories and a lifelong passion for the railways so compiling the ‘book with the amazing help and support of friends and former colleagues of my father was a real labour of love. This impressive collection of photographs, which my father left, is testament not only to his eye for detail but also to his lifelong passion for railways. I made a splendid cake for the launch in Barnsley to celebrate this pictorial railway journey.

Grandma Abson had a part to play in my railway upbringing story. Her father and husband had both been railway workers, so it’s not surprising that I found a Railway Pudding recipe amongst her collection.

I’m not sure of the origins of this pudding but I have found references to this in various places such as http://www.foodsofengland.co.uk/railwaypudding.htm .  Several versions between 1867 and 1902 are highlighted and described as a recipe ‘based around a plain, sweet, raised batter, boiled or baked and spread (or filled) with a conserve’.

A further reference comes in The Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden  - a project between 2011 and 2013 which explored the potential for using community-based heritage projects to look at more sustainable ways of life.  It includes a collection of recipes some of which come from  The Liverpool School of Cookery Recipe Book (1911). This book was described as being “most valuable to young housekeepers, containing recipes most needed under all conditions and circumstances of everyday life”. Grandma’s recipe resembles this one quite closely.

Railway Pudding

1 cupful plain flour

2 tsps baking powder

1 small cupful sugar

2 eggs beaten

¾ cupful milk

Raspberry Jam

Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar together. Beat the eggs with the milk. Mix all well together. Put in a greased Yorkshire Pudding tin and bake in a quick oven for 20 minutes. (375F, Mark 5, 190C). When it’s done, spread the jam over it and roll it up like a Swiss Roll. Serve with custard, cream or milk. It is nice eaten hot or cold.

Meryl’s tips : I used approx. 4oz(110g) for a cup equivalent, 3oz (75g) for a small cup and 120 ml for a ¾ cup equivalent. I used a Swiss roll type tin – large and oblong. 

I found another version of Railway Pudding with cooking apples instead of jam which would make a good alternative. Enjoy going on a Railway journey with this pudding!

Monday 18 December 2023

Grandma Abson’s Christmas traditions

 

It’s over 10 years since I launched Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking. I set up the Grandma Abson blog, where I still post, on Christmas Day 2010 with a short post entitled  Christmas Baking like Grandma used to do. I wrote about memories of my Grandma’s home-made mince pies and Christmas Cake and it was the start of sharing many more posts and recipes. Built on the legacy of my Grandma's time as a cook-housekeeper with the Hick family in Edwardian times in Oakleigh, Wath on Dearne, my aim was to share Grandma’s baking. Especially watching Grandma cook at Christmas, I recalled precious memories of traditional Christmas bakes.

Grandma’s  Christmas Cake was special. She never made just one – there were a dozen or so cakes for family and friends. This recipe is one I’ve baked for many years now – there’s never a piece left by 1 January. And of course, she made her own Almond Paste .

 

The Station House where we lived was always full on Christmas Eve with the arrival of her sisters, Emma and Alice by train in time for Christmas Day. They would be greeted with Mince Pies, which she would have made during the morning with homemade Mincemeat. 

The Plum (Christmas) Pudding would have been made several weeks before and was always served with Rum Sauce.

 I made some amazing discoveries amongst Grandma Abson’s traditional recipes which. One of them was a special  Boxing Day Cake  Boxing Day which has dates, honey and a hint of almond. I’ve never been able to find out where Grandma got this recipe from, but I’ve made Boxing Day Cake many times since for family and friends and for talks about heritage baking.

Grandma would often made chutneys and biscuits as Christmas homemade baking gifts including Cranberry & Apple Chutney 

 Shortbread biscuits and lots more besides. 

You can read more about Grandma Abson’s life, her passion for baking and lots more of her Christmas recipes HERE and head over to Instagram @grandmaabson to see me baking with my grandchildren.     

Whatever you’re baking this Christmas, I wish you every good wish for a wonderful festive time and happy and blissful baking!

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Custard tart or Pastel de nata?

 

I have always been a great fan of Custard tarts. It was the wobbly custard filling with the topping of grated nutmeg which captivated me. From being a child, they were my absolute favourite pastry. Well, apart from Eccles cakes, but we’ll leave them for another day.

A first taste of a Pastel de nata

But when I went to Porto a few years ago and tasted a singularly beguiling Pastel de nata, my youthful adoration of Custard tarts was quickly replaced by this amazing creation. I was bewitched. Was it the light flakiness of the pastry and creamy custard filling with a light hint of cinnamon instead of the shortcrust pastry and the nutmeg topped skin on the egg filling of the custard tart which stole my heart. From day one, I was smitten.

Pastéis de nata everywhere

Nowadays, we find them everywhere in supermarkets, cafes and cake shops but somehow, they are not quite the same as those ones I tasted in Porto. One of my friends dared me to make Pastéis de nata when she tried some from a famous supermarket and deemed them to be quite disappointing (and expensive). So, always open to a challenge, I set about finding a recipe.

Being creative

I ducked out of making special pastry and took the advice of several (Portuguese) cooks who advocated using ready rolled puff pastry. Most recipes made huge quantities of pasteles, so wanting to limit the number I would bake to 10-12, I set about reading lots of different recipes to come up with a recipe of my own. The result of my endeavours was quite stunning for a first attempt. This is my creative version.  

What you need

1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry

Butter to grease the tin

225g caster sugar

125ml water

2 cinnamon sticks

zest of 1 lemon

250ml milk

2 tbsps plain flour

2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg

Equipment

You also need a bun/muffin tin, a round biscuit cutter (large enough to fill the mould), 2 small pans, a bowl or basin.

How to bake

·        Grease the moulds of the bun tin with a small amount of butter.

·        Unroll the pastry sheet and cut out 10-12 shapes with the biscuit cutter.

·        Place the shapes in the bun tin and press down into the moulds. Chill the tin for 30 minutes.

·        Heat the caster sugar, water, cinnamon stick and zest of half of the lemon in a small pan until it boils, then turn off.

·        Put 150 ml of the milk in another pan with the remaining lemon zest lemon and cinnamon stick in a pa. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off. Add the butter and leave to melt.

·        Put the remaining 100ml of the milk in a bowl or basin and add the flour gradually. Then add this flour mixture to the milk in the pan and heat gently. Remove the cinnamon stick. Stir until it begins to thicken. Remove the cinnamon stick. Turn off the heat and stir in the syrup mixture, keeping 1 tablespoon back to decorate the tarts when cooked. Pass the mixture through a sieve if there are any lumps and then leave to cool completely in the fridge.

·        Heat the oven to 220C.

·        Remove the mixture from the fridge and mix in the egg yolks and the whole egg.

·        Remove the tin with the pastry moulds from the fridge and fill each mould with the egg custard mixture to just below the brim of the mould.

·        Bake for up to 10-15 minutes until the top starts to blister on top.

·        Remove the pastéis from the tin and place on a cooling rack. Lightly drip the remaining syrup mixture across each pastel.

·        Leave to cool (If you can resist them!)  

At the end of the day, whilst I was content with my own version of pastéis de nata, there is nothing like the real thing so I’m contemplating my next visit to Portugal to head back to those Pastelarias. In the meantime, I won’t forsake my custard tarts - they were my first love after all.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Where have all the bilberries gone?

 

It was on a summer holiday to Alsace this year, that I came across ‘Tarte aux Myrtilles’ featuring on menus and was tempted to try this most attractive of desserts. Well, why not? As well as growing in the Vosges mountains, bilberries are found in the Savoie region of the French Alps and other areas of France. My friends with relatives in Finland also tell me that bilberries are a popular dessert there too. Sweden also boasts the cultivation of bilberries. Although I remember picking bilberries as a child, sadly they seem quite difficult to find in the UK nowadays. Local knowledge of places to pick them is often kept secret to protect this highly prized fruit.

Bilberries are often confused with blueberries but the latter are a different plant genus altogether. Bilberries are quite small, a little tart in flavour and a much darker blue in colour. They can leave a trace of blue on your lips, so we often got found out if we’d eaten too many when picking them!

If you are fortunate enough to find any bilberries, here’s a Franch family recipe to make your mouth water (or turn blue!).

Tarte aux Myrtilles

What you need

Pastry

200g flour (plain)

100g butter (cut into small pieces)

75g caster sugar

1-2 tbsps milk (or water)

Dried beans for the pastry

Filling

400g bilberries

50g granulated sugar

50g ground almonds

30g flour

50g caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsps crème fraiche

Icing sugar to decorate

How to bake

Sift the flour and sugar together in a bowl and add the butter. Mix until it all resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk (or water) and mix into a dough. Wrap and place in a cool place (fridge) for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the bilberries and granulated sugar in a pan on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Strain the bilberries and remove from the pan. Continue to cook the juice until it has thickened. Then place the bilberries back in the pan and allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry and place in a 22 cm tarte tin or dish.  Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. Bake blind for 15 minutes (i.e. prick the base, cover with greaseproof paper and dried beans). Remove the greaseproof paper and dried beans and allow to cool.

While the pastry is baking, mix together the ground almonds, flour and 25g of the caster sugar. Spread this over the base of the tarte and then add the bilberry mixture on top. Whisk the eggs, crème fraiche and remaining caster sugar and pour over the bilberry mixture. Place in the oven for 20 minutes until it is set or firm to the touch. Allow to cool and sprinkle a little icing sugar on top before serving.

Meryl says : If you can’t find any bilberries or don’t want to use blueberries as an alternative, then go blackberrying instead. Blackberries are in abundance in the hedgerows just now so there’s always Apple and Blackberry Pie to enjoy. 


Tuesday 29 August 2023

Fond memories of Madeleines

 

Madeleines 

Rather like Jaffa cakes, experts have long discussed whether madeleines are a cake or a biscuit. Their sponge texture is quite soft and light but slightly dense, hence the debate. Baked using basic ingredients : sugar, eggs, butter, flour with baking powder, they can be flavoured with vanilla extract or lemon zest. Ground almonds may be substituted for some of the flour but my friend, Odile, says this is ‘pas comme il faut’ so who am to question the French on this? The madeleine tin is an essential piece of equipment since the moulds are in the shape of shells. The moulds give the madeleines their special shape and pattern with lines visible on each madeleine when baked.

How do you bake them?

Madeleines are very easy to bake – in fact you can’t go wrong. There is a multitude of recipes but they have similar instructions. Most suggest using melted butter but others follow a sort of creaming method where you soften the butter and add the rest of the ingredients. Some recipes don’t use milk. I’ve used a French family recipe here. This recipe makes 24 approximately (2 tins), depending on the size of the tin.

What you need

100g butter melted

100g caster sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

50g milk

Vanilla extract or

Zest of 1 lemon

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

 

How to bake

Preheat the oven to 220C (200C Fan) or Gas Make 7. Beat the eggs and add the sugar, vanilla extract (or lemon zest) and some of the milk. Beat with a (electric) whisk over a bain-marie (in a bowl over a pan of warm water). Remove from the heat and continue to whisk. Add the rest of the milk and then stir in the flour and baking powder. Brush the madeleine tin with oil or a small amount of melted butter.   Place spoonsful of the mixture into the moulds – just fill half each individual mould. Bake for 10-12 minutes until they are well risen and firm. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove from the tin with a palette knife and put on a cooling rack.

To decorate

Icing sugar

or

White or dark chocolate

Apricot jam

For an easy decoration, sieve icing sugar across the madeleines or dip them in melted chocolate like ‘churros’. For a more elaborate version, brush the madeleines with apricot jam, heated ion a pan with 1 tbsp hot water, then trickle melted chocolate over the madeleines and leave until set.

These little cakes, forever etched in my memory from studying Proust at university, have their place as the most beguiling of small cakes. I love baking these with my grandchildren for goûter, to keep my fond memories of ‘madeleines’ alive.