Monthly Archives: September 2013

Short Summers, Long Lunches

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Summer is short in Finland; especially for me coming from the sub-tropics where Summer lasts about seven months. It’s so short you can miss it – especially if you nip off to Spain for a week and return with the forests no longer eye-blindingly green, but breathtakingly golden.

But while it’s short, it’s nothing if not miraculous.

The daily growth is visible. The local birch grove, opposite the apartment, sporting tiny unfurling bright green buds on Monday would be thick with leaves by Wednesday.  24 hours of life-giving sunlight is absorbed by everything and everyone that can get beneath the rays.

On the bank of the lake at the family’s summerhouse one thing that really flourishes in the constant light is rhubarb. Smaller and paler than the robust red stems I’m used to, but bursting with flavour.

For me rhubarb is all about warm deserts in winter; crumbles and compotes. But in Finland it’s all about ice cream, cakes, juice, cider and the bracingly sharp taste of summer.

This cake is perfect alongside a pot of tea in the afternoon sun (if you’re in my hemisphere), or to round out a picnic lunch and washed down with a pint of frosty apple cider (if you’re lucky enough to be sunning yourself in a northern summer).

I’ve just planted some rhubarb crowns in the garden which have burst into life – our short cool Springs, their cool short Summers; it’s enough to make a fella homesick.

Rhubarb and Custard Tea Cake

Rhubarb and Custard Tea Cake.  

This is a spin on a classic tea cake. By all means if you have a recipe you love, use that one and just dress it up with the additions of the rhubarb and custard.

The Pantry:

70g butter, softened

1/2 cup golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/2 cups of plain flour, sifted

2 teaspoons of baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup of almond meal

3/4 cup milk

The Filling:

2-3 large Rhubarb stems chopped

2 tablespoons of golden caster sugar

Start by preparing the custard and rhubarb.

Wash the rhubarb and leave it wet. Chop into 2cm pieces and place into a saucepan with the sugar. Cook over a low to medium heat until the rhubarb collapses. Put aside and allow to cool.

Custard

500ml milk

6 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup of caster sugar

50g cornflour

This is the same basic custard used in the Danish Pastry recipe – a good go to basic.

Scald milk and vanilla in a saucepan. Beat egg yolks, sugar and corn flour together in a bowl until well combined and ribbony-thick. Pour in hot milk and whisk until smooth. Return mixture to the wiped out saucepan and gradually heat until it has thickened and come to a boil. Beat for 1 minute and then pour into a bowl. To prevent a skin forming cover with cling film and press down to touch the custard. Allow to cool.

Rhubarb and Custard tea Cake

The Batter

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm loaf tin with baking paper. Leave some of the baking paper exposed. (This is a delicate cake and it helps to lift if out of the tin after baking).

In the mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg and beat well until combined. Add vanilla and mix well.

Combine flour, almond meal, salt and baking powder.

Note: If your mixer has a slow hand-mixing action then by all means gradually add the flour and milk to the bowl alternately until just combined, or gently fold in the flour mix and milk by hand.

Scrape half the cake batter into the loaf tin. Place spoonfuls of custard in a line down the centre of the mixture. Dot with some of the rhubarb and cover with remaining batter.

Spoon the remaining custard and rhubarb over the top of the cake batter in a rough line down the centre.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Stand cake in pan for around 10-15 minutes. Using the baking paper, gently lift the cake and cool on a wire rack. (Any left-over rhubarb makes for a great topping on yoghurt or rolled oats the next day).

While cake is still warm, brush top with a little melted butter to give the cake a gentle shine.

Enjoy in the sun, by a lake, on a rug, with a friend.

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Equinox and the last of the oranges

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This week we’re celebrating the Spring equinox in the southern hemisphere, equal day and equal night.
The difference in light is not something you notice much in the sub-tropics, although the longer days are definitely welcome even after a mild Winter. In Scandinavia, however, light tells a very different story.

My cousin Janne shared a photo with us this weekend; a picture from the Summer House, which sits in the forest by a lake not far from our home town, well and truly sliding into quiet, damp and golden autumn – the very opposite of my bright green garden.

It’s an extraordinary time, Autumn. He once told me it was by far his most loved time of year. The birds are quiet, the forest is still; just the sound of droplets falling on a bed of gold, amber, rust and umber. Cool fog drifting through hillsides of birch that shine brighter than the fading sunlight until they too fall silent. So while Scandinavia yawns and prepares to slumber we’re here, bright, fresh, green and stretching and getting ready for Spring.

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To mark the change I decided it was time for tart – and time to use up the last of the oranges. These days I know oranges are ubiquitous in the fruit bowl, but in an attempt to keep with the seasons we eat them mostly in Winter (well, alright, and in Summer in jugs of Pimms Number 1).

Danish Orange Tart

This is a deliciously light tart perfect for Spring and easy to pull together from ingredients you’re likely to have at hand. It’s from Beatrice Ojakangas with a slight tweak for my climate and taste. It’s almost a cheesecake, but lighter and more delicate in flavour.

The Pantry

1 cup flour
1/3 cup raw or golden caster sugar
90 grams unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 tsp cold water
Pinch of salt flakes

Filling

250 grams cream cheese
2 tablespoons of freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons of raw or golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tablespoon of cornflour
1/2 cup flaked or slivered almonds
pinch of salt flakes

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The Pastry

Place the flour, sugar, butter into the food processor with the blade attachment. Pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and pulse again until the dough comes together into a ball.

Depending on where you live, the type of flour you’re using and the humidity you may need more or less water. I drop it in just until the magic happens. Within a few seconds you’ll see the grains begin to clump and pull together into pastry. It’s a kitchen miracle. In fact I never make pastry any other way. Simple, fast and practically as easy as opening the package of pre made pastry. Trust me.

Flatten the ball of pastry into a disc and wrap in cling film, then straight into the fridge. Let it chill for 30 minutes. If you forget and leave it a little longer it’ll be fine, just allow it to warm slightly before rolling to avoid too many cracks.

Preheat the oven to 200c and roll out the pastry. This recipe makes for a really tasty, but high butter ratio pastry, so don’t over handle.

Press into a fluted loose bottomed flan tin. I pop the pastry back into the fridge to chill again for 10-15 mins before baking, but if you don’t live in a warm climate like me, you can skip this step. Just keep an eye on it.

The pastry needs to be pre baked for about 15 minutes before adding the filling. Cover the base with baking paper and fill with rice or baking weights if you have them. Cook for 15 mins and remove the weights. At this point I brush the base of the pastry with some beaten egg white and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes. This will seal the base and prevent any leakage mishaps if your pastry is a little thin in places.

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The Filling

Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, whip the cream cheese, cornflour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, orange zest and juice together until smooth and light. Pour into the pre-baked tart shell and sprinkle with the almonds. Bake for 30-35 minutes until set in the middle and golden on the edges. If your edges are looking a little too burnished, gussy them up with a brush of sugar glaze. The shine covers all sins.

Allow to cool, then chill before serving.

Happy Spring/Autumn equinox.

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24 hours to Denmark

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When I was a boy I often dreamt of the day when I’d visit Sweden. Something about that majestic Scandinavian kingdom captured my imagination and filled me with wonder. Fur-lined hats and snow covered streets. Reindeer, sleigh bells, rosy-cheeked beautiful people, northern lights, the royal family, (home of IKEA, ABBA); and as an adult, the design, the furniture, the food and the tall rosy-cheeked beautiful people, IKEA, the ABBA MUSEUM!

In fact I knew very little about Sweden or much about any Scandinavian country, other than one day I would visit and discover for myself the wonders of the north.

Somewhere deep in the braches of our family tree there is a throwback to Sweden, a distant great-great-great grandfather or so the story goes. You can see it in my cousins, tall, blonde, cheek-boned and blue eyed. I missed out on the blue eyes and my hair has darked from the childhood blond it once was, but for sure there is something lingering there. The other side of the family hails from Ireland, with a decent spattering of red hair in the mix which has to be a throwback to the Viking invaders – well that’s how the story goes.

But, the fact is, even though I’ve visited Scandinavia many times, I’m yet to make it to Sweden.

Finland, check, Norway, check, Iceland, check… Sweden… well… if you count Arlanda international airport a couple of times…

Then, one night dancing to an ABBA remix at a 70s themed disco revival night at the local club district (no judgement), I met and fell in love with a Finn.

We regularly zipped back to Finland to visit the family; relocated and set up house, studied the impossible language (which I adore, and The Finn thinks sounds not dissimilar to a machine gun) got married, and was welcomed into a new Finnish family. And that’s when it happened. I was home. And I was Scandinavian. It might not be the land of my forebears, but something in the light, water, forests and people in Finland got under my skin.

But the allure of Sweden has never ebbed. More on that later.

So this leads me to 24 hours to Denmark.

This is my culinary journey through Scandinavia. I’m a baker from way back, (since I won the blue ribbon for my apple tea cake at age six) and adore the tastes and smells of bread, cakes and pastries from across the world. When my local bakeries didn’t offer what I was after I set about teaching myself how to recreate the extraordinary delights in the bakers windows of Europe.

Danish Pastries

Danish pastries are my weakness. I love them, always have. My Dad and I used to frequent our local Hot Bread store on Saturday mornings to buy said hot bread; usually a Vienna loaf or similar, scorched a little on the crust. We’d eat it piled high with paper thin slices of pastrami from the deli next door and I couldn’t imagine a better lunch at the age of eight. Pastries would also be bought for afternoon tea (or the ride home) – always apricot for me.

Since then my tastes have somewhat evolved to enjoy more complex fillings like the ones below, although give me a good apricot jam filled pastry at a market and I’m liable to lose a sense of what’s appropriate to say in public while eating it. (More on that later)

Don’t be put off by the time this recipe takes. The length of time needed is to let the dough very slowly prove in the fridge before the magic really happens. It takes barely five minutes to slap it all together in the first step and then go about your business or whip up a loaf of Finnish rye bread while you wait.

This recipe comes via a Brit from a Finn. It’s based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which is based on one from accomplished commentator on all things Finnish and edible, Beatrice Ojakangas.

You can certainly use ricotta cheese, custard or almond as the filling, but I love the tang of sour morello cherries (although not really Scandinavian) balanced with a simple pastry cream.

A colleague of mine hailing from Denmark tells me that fruit is not a common filling for the ubiquitous Viennebrot, and also these pastries are never called a Danish in Denmark. The translation is Viennese Bread, hailing from Vienna, but what the hey. They bake em , we eat em.

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The Pantry

You’ll need to begin this recipe the day before, but don’t panic, it’ll be done before you can say Lentokonesuihkuturbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoaliupseerioppilas.

60 ml warm water

125 ml milk, at room temperature

1 large egg, at room temperature

350g plain white flour

1 sachet (approx 7g) rapid yeast

1 teaspoon salt

25g golden sugar

250g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Optional: I’m obsessed with cardamom, so if you want to spice up your mix a little and give it a Finnish twist add a teaspoon of ground cardamom or some crushed seeds to the dry mixture. This is totally not traditional, but delightful nonetheless.

Tools: Jug, large bowl, food processor, spatula, cling film, sense of adventure.

Pour the water, milk and egg into a jug and mix until combined.

Place the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the food processor and pulse to mix for a second or two. Add the cold butter and pulse again until the butter is cut up and mixed in a little. Don’t over mix. It should be chunky.

Empty mix into a large bowl and add all the liquid at once. Fold the mixture together briefly to make a gooey, lumpy dough. Cover with cling film and pop it into the fridge for 24 hours, or longer if you need to.

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The Pastry

When you’re ready to transform your goo into pastry remove from the fridge and let it get to room temp. NOTE: if you live anywhere remotely hot (like me) then keep it a bit cooler than room temp and it will be much easier to handle.

Flour your bench (this is essential) and roll, stretch, flatten the pastry as best you can into a square (50cm x 50cm). Fold the dough into thirds like you would a letter and roll out again to a square.

I do this a few times, but if your pastry is getting really gooey stop here. Fold it up into a rectangle again and cut in half. Wrap each square in cling film, then pop straight back into the fridge while you make your filling.

The Filling

Sour Cherry and Custard

1 jar of sour morello cherries

500ml milk

6 egg yolks

Vanilla bean or 1tsp extract

¾ cup of caster sugar

50g cornflour

Egg glaze

1 egg

Dash of milk

Sugar glaze

100g icing sugar

1-2 tbsp of water

Scald milk and vanilla in a saucepan. Beat egg yolks, sugar and corn flour together in a bowl until well combined and ribbony-thick. Pour in hot milk and whisk until smooth. NOTE: pop a tea town under your bowl to stop it flying out from under you and frightening the cat. Return mixture to the wiped out saucepan and gradually heat until it has thickened and come to a boil. Beat for 1 minute and then pour into a bowl. To prevent a skin forming cover with cling film and press down to touch the custard. Allow to cool.

To make your Danish take the dough and roll out to a 50cm square again. Cut into roughly 6 even pieces. In the centre of each piece pipe or spoon in a dollop of custard (about a tablespoonful) and place 5 or 6 cherries into the custard.

Take opposite corners of the pastry and pinch together. Do all four if you like or stick with two for a longer looking result.  Place onto a baking tray and let rise until doubled in size.

Once rested and risen, brush with an egg glaze.

Bake at 180c for 15 to 20 minutes until golden. Once cooked, allow to cool a bit then drizzle with sugar glaze.

Try to not eat all six.

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