Monday, 11 September 2017

Something Old, Something Choux, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

I absolutely love buying cookbooks. You won't be a bit surprised, I'm sure. I utterly love old cookbooks with their fascinating diagrams, captivating descriptions and gripping details. I'm never happier than rummaging in a second hand bookshop, finding an unusual, un-used gem or a well-loved family favourite. I also entirely love new cookbooks, so much so that my bookshelves are groaning. I tend to be restrained (or I try to be), even occasionally have I been known to donate no-longer used books to make room for new ones. Sometimes. OK, not often. I buy more shelves.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

Occasionally I buy a new book and inside I find something old. This happened recently when I trotted into my local Waterstones on the way to work (yes, it's a morning priority) hoping to spy the latest book from Justin Gellatly and the team at Bread Ahead - Bread School. There it was. On the shelf. Calling my name. I read it on the walk to work (apologies if I bumped into you). Sneaked a peek at my desk (sorry to my boss if you are reading this). Flicked through at lunchtime (which may have been extended). Lost myself in it on the train home (which for once seemed to fly past). So many wonderful, modern, classic, innovative recipes. Then, there it was. Page 166. 'French Baking', indeed. Swoon. Fanny's favourite, the Choux Swan.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

They are so retro. So adorable. So effective. I think I love Choux Swans almost as much as Fanny did. People often associate them with the 1970s, but they've been around longer and feature in Fanny's cookbooks stretching right back. It makes me smile so much to see them in a new, hip, must-have book, I just have to try the recipe and see how they compare to Fanny's. I made Choux Swans over the summer at my Fanny Cradock demo at Foodies Festival with the lovely Restoration Cake. Of course, with Fanny's signature blue cream filling. The crowd seemed to love them, and I loved seeing pictures of the sweet little swans I made for the audience appearing across social media. Who doesn't love a Blue Choux Swan?

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

People can get a little scared of choux pastry, but you needn't be. Fanny has her rules to follow, as ever, which are a little different to the mainstream. So I mostly follow the Bread Ahead methods and throw in some Fanny for good measure. All choux starts with melting butter in a liquid. Here, it's milk and water. Fanny uses all sorts, including orange juice, for hers, depending on the occasion. The Bread Ahead guys use bread flour, so I do too. A little sugar, some salt. All gently mingling. Then boiling. Then flour added in and mixed. Then eggs beaten in one at a time. Fanny then leaves it cool, until it is stone cold. Other recipes don't. Fanny says it's the only way to ensure there is no 'nasty goo' inside the baked buns. I don't want goo. Stone cold it is.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

Fanny loved piping. I love piping. The Bread Ahead Swan bodies are piped with a star nozzle. I rather like the idea. The Swan necks are piped through a small round nozzle. The necks bake for eight minutes, the bodies for twenty-two. Both emerge from the oven looking resplendently golden, but not so pretty. The tops are sliced off the bodies and cut in half to make wings. The cavity is filled with glorious piped custard or cream. Or both. Blue colouring is optional required. Wings are placed. Finally the necks and head are attached, and voilà, a splendid Swan appears from the ugly duckling. Fanny suggests insists that they are displayed on a mirrored surface to resemble a lake. Please You Must join me, Fanny and Bread Ahead, in #BringingRetroBack.

Fanny Cradock Blue Choux Swans

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Real Wild Rothschild

Picture the scene. You're enjoying a fabulous dinner in a fabulous Château in a fabulous area of the fabulous Médoc in fabulous France. You're hosts are fabulous. Everything is fabulous. Of course it is, you are dining with the fabulous Rothschild wine family at their fabulous Château Rothschild. It's hard to get more blooming fabulous. Everyone is enjoying the fabulous meal. You suddenly have a fabulous idea. You'd love to recreate this fabulous dish at home. Surely you're fabulous hosts wouldn't mind sharing the fabulous recipe with you? Would they?

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

As you might imagine, Fanny was not shy in asking. Without any whiff of social embarrassment, she boldly asked for the recipe. I can still hear the *gasp* now. The dish she had enjoyed so much was called Gâteau Rothschild. The clue is in the name. A treasured family meal of layered late summer vegetables. Presumably goes perfectly with a large glass (or two) or red. Initially, the chef was extremely reluctant to share the recipe with Fanny. After all, it was a closely guarded family secret. And she was known for sharing them in print. For profit. The recipe is contained in their treasured private family 'receipt' book. So, probably, you'd just say 'I understand' and leave without the famous recipe. Not Fanny. She wanted that book.

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

Knowing the time would come when she too would want to impress a crowd, maybe of hungry vegetarians, she persisted to try and secure the secret. The chef, however, would not budge. Nothing stops Fanny as we know, so she went straight to her hosts to explain the reluctance. Not embarrassing at all. The fabulousness suddenly left the room. It worked however, and they asked the chef to prise open the old, valuable, sentimental, family cookbook and let Fanny get her hands on it. Except the chef insisted on simply verbally telling Fanny the recipe making her use all her powers of memory to retain it until she had a chance to jot it down.

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

She did though, and then shared it with us all. Naturally. How kind of her to lay bare the family showstopper. It is essentially a layered bake with seasonal vegetables. Courgettes. Onions. Tomatoes. Peppers. Mushrooms. Fanny says it is one of the most delicious and rather time demanding vegetable 'assembly' dishes that she knows of. Clearly not suitable for general family meals (unless you happen to be the Rothschilds) but entirely suitable for entertaining. I take some shortcuts though as time is tighter and it's the chefs night off...

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

I think Fanny, and perhaps even the Rothschilds themselves, would approve. Fanny laboriously cooks each vegetable separately in pans of foaming butter. Very French. It's important to keep them all separate for the presentation. I slice them thickly, pop them on a tray and roast them in the oven. Once baked, I layer them in a metal ring with alternate layers of a mix of cheese and breadcrumbs, before baking again. Fanny is very particular on the assembly. It must be onion first, then tomato, peppers and finally courgettes. In that order. My final rebellion is to include Aubergine, which I put first. Then, bake again and serve with a tomato sauce, which Fanny calls a fondue. This is how the Rothschild Family served it, and so must we. It was indeed fabulous. I don't imagine, however, that Fanny was ever invited to the Château for Gâteau again.

Fanny Cradock Gateaux Rothschild

Monday, 28 August 2017

Game of Holmes

The one question that I am asked most often is 'What do you think Fanny Cradock would be doing now, if she were still around?' Even more often than 'Do you dress up as Fanny Cradock when you cook?' All I can say is that what happens in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen. It's harder to answer what Fanny would be doing now, primarily because she did it all. First. So, would she have a blog? Well, she did a weekly magazine where she wrote all the recipes, cooked them, photographed them (in her own style) and shared her top tips for techniques. Would she be on YouTube? Well, she changed the way television cooking shows were filmed for ever with her brand of entertainment. Would she be on Reality TV? Well, some claim that Simon Cowell drew his inspiration from her appearance on The Big Time. The truth is, if someone's thought of it, Fanny has done it, and it was probably her idea. Or, she'd tell you it was.

Fanny Cradock Game of Thrones

All throughout her career her 'big thing' was shouting loudly about historical recipes, historical techniques and presenting them in what seem like hysterical ways to today's eyes. She had her own hashtag before hashtags were invented, #BringingRetroBack, which I have adopted on her behalf now that she herself is seen as 'retro'. Later in her career, after the television work had come to an end, she resumed her life as an author. She didn't abandon food altogether of course, and found a way to combine history, food and fiction when she released the Sherlock Holmes Cookbook. The marketeer in her claimed to simply compile it, as it was written by Mrs Hudson, who for reasons unknown (apart from the *amazing* coincidence that she was Fanny's heroine) adopted some of the old recipes from Mrs Agnes B Marshall to serve to Sherlock, Watson and Mycroft.

Fanny Cradock Game of Thrones

Flash forward forty-odd years, and perhaps these types of food, history and popular culture mash-ups are more common. As well as Sherlock being a huge television revival in it's own right, Game of Thrones is, of course, massive. Back in 2012 a couple of savvy and sassy bloggers, Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, turned their massively successful Game of Thrones inspired blog into a book as a 'unique combination of artistry, historical knowledge and love of food', A Feast of Ice and Fire - The Official Companion Cookbook. It's quite striking how, accidentally, similar in style it is to The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook. Fanny would've loved it, if she hadn't thought of it first. Swans feature heavily, as they do throughout Fanny's works too, and even in the same beloved 'template' style of instruction Fanny favoured.

Fanny Cradock Game of Thrones

Both books really are a celebration of long lost historical recipes, presented in different ways. A Feast of Fire and Ice has glorious photographs to tempt you to try either the Medieval or the Modern version of each recipe. Fanny, or sorry, Mrs Hudson, relies on sketches to transport you back in time. The Game of Thrones cookbook is divided into different geographical regions from the books, Sherlock Holmes is more traditional in it's 'menu' set-up, but is littered with quotes from, and references to, Arthur Conan Doyle.  Fanny even manages to sneak in a few of her very favourite recipes (would Mrs Hudson really make Doughnuts I wonder?) shamelessly pretending they were cooked up in Baker Street.

Fanny Cradock Game of Thrones

Fanny wrote the introduction to the Sherlock Holmes book, outlining her idea. George R. R. Martin wrote the introduction to A Feast of Fire and Ice. He has a shameful secret to confess however. Something he has to get off his chest. He can't cook. I also have an equally shameful secret to share. I've never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. Not a one. Never read any of the books. Not a line. I'm not sure which is more shocking. I'm more Knots Landing than Kings Landing. There I've said it. I was however very fortunate to have the chance to get to know Sariann when she lived in Edinburgh. We studied together. We never managed to cook and style a Fanny Cradock and Game of Thrones collaboration though. Maybe that's something for the future. Come back Sariann! Meantime, I'm on the look-out for the next big thing... Any ideas?

Fanny Cradock Game of Thrones

Monday, 21 August 2017

Ice Cream If You Want To Avocado Faster

If you think that something is bang on trend, so 'right now', clamoured for by hipsters everywhere, you can be sure that Fanny Cradock got there first. She wasn't just the champion, riding the crest of a wave of the latest craze, she started the fads. Others followed. If you wanted to know what was hip and happening, you looked to see what Fanny was making. Others copied. She was in vogue, à la mode, the latest thing. Others tried. So, next time you roll your eyes thinking we've hit peak Avocado, Fanny was banging on about them before trending was even, well, a trend.

Fanny Cradock Avocado Ice Cream

She snaffled many of her best Avocado recipes from Madame Annette, who was Mr. W. Somerset Maugham's French cook. We've met her before. Avocados were the bane of her life. Dear old 'Meestair Moggum' (as she called him) apparently had the only fruiting, outside Avocado tree in Europe, so naturally they had to appear on many, many menus. Fanny seemingly 'clucked her tongue' in the deepest of sympathy but still managed to get her hooks on several of her special recipes. She made a mean Avocado mousse by all accounts. She was the only person Fanny knew who ever managed to successfully make an edible Avocado Omelette. However it was her Ice Cream which Fanny coveted most.

Fanny Cradock Avocado Ice Cream

Yes, Avocado Ice Cream. It's so 'now' it's no surprise to discover it's actually so 'retro'. I spotted a recipe for it in the new, and veggie-tastic, Veggie Desserts book I bought last week. We are so fortunate that Fanny was able to prise the recipe from the skilled hands of Madame Annette. To stop her Avocados from discolouring, Fanny uses only the very best silver cutlery, which my household budget purse will not stretch to. I shall try and invest in a silver Avocado knife for future recipes. Don't roll your eyes at me. The flesh is emulsified or sieved. Whizzed up for me. Fanny then adds an egg yolk and whizzes again, before scooping it all into a freshly made sugar syrup and heating gently for five minutes, stirring all the time. At this stage it looks a lot like very mushy peas, but I am not put off. And neither should you be.

Fanny Cradock Avocado Ice Cream

Once cold, the jolly green mixture should be transferred to the freezer compartment, frozen until the outer edges are set but it's still a little loose in the middle. A bit like myself. Mine seems exactly like that after a few hours. Fanny whips it up 'with beaters' and adds stiffly beaten double cream in big dollops, whipping all the time until it's all combined. Then simply refreezes it. Fanny, unusually, does not include a photograph of the finished ice cream as she notes that 'one ice cream looks very much like another' once it's placed in a glass or a coupe. She says it did not justify having a picture of it. More likely she forgot. More likely still a poor assistant forgot to take a snap. More likely Fanny would not let them forget again. Ever.

Fanny Cradock Avocado Ice Cream

I normally have Fanny's prodigious presentation to guide me. Inspire me. Baffle me. Not today. So I summon up all my innermost Fanny Cradock enthusiasm, creativity and insight. Grabbing the piping bag and nozzle which are never far from my hand, I set to work filling the empty Avocado shells ready for the freezer. The resulting ice cream is stunning. Such a smooth texture, just like it had been dreamily churned, defiantly and dazzlingly still tasting of avocado, dramatically green, but delicately sweet and deliciously creamy too. Unlike Madame Annette, I fear I will never tire of this recipe, whether Avocados are in fashion, a passing fad or long forgotten.

Fanny Cradock Avocado Ice Cream

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Push Pineapple, Shake The Tree

I'd say one of the many amazing things about Fanny Cradock is her ability to completely transform a few, very simple ingredients into something which has the unexpected 'wow' factor. She practically built her whole career on it. Partly through necessity as ingredients were scare after the war, but somewhat because, I am sure, it was fun and an appealing, eye-popping challenge for her. Add into the mix her other oft-used phrase 'and so quick to throw together when someone pops round unexpectedly' and you have her Pineapple Soufflé, or Les Zephyrs Maison. Entirely suitable for those that come and dance every night, singing with a hula melody.

Fanny Cradock Pineapple Soufflé

Fanny being Fanny thinks strategically about the provocative presentation before she even begins. No point in planning a 'wow' that, well, has no 'wow'. She chooses a pineapple on the smaller side which has leafy green spikes a-plenty, and starts by slicing the whole thing down the middle, 'tufts' and all. Careful not to chop them off. The soufflé is baked and served IN the pineapple you see. It's all her own idea, and one which everyone that she has served it to has enjoyed immensely. No doubt she had the inspiration when she met a mistress somewhere in Waikiki, selling pineapple and playing Ukulele. Classic Fanny Cradock.

Fanny Cradock Pineapple Soufflé

The unembellished but soon-to-be flashy flesh of the pineapple is carefully scooped out, and kept aside. Fanny stresses the importance of NOT making any holes through the skin, reminding us that this is the home for the soufflé. The central core of the pineapple is a bit tougher than the rest, but it generally pops out easily enough with a little help from a teaspoon. You may need to push the pineapple a bit, especially to the left and the right, but no need to shake the tree, grind coffee or to jump up and down then to the knees.

Fanny Cradock Pineapple Soufflé

Fanny whizzes up the pineapple pulp, either by emulsifying it in a liquidiser, or more strenuously shoving it all through a sieve. Thankfully I have a machine to do the work. And another to whirr up the egg whites for the soufflé. First of all just on their own, then for a very precise three and a half minutes with a small part of the caster sugar. Only after that is the rest of the sugar is carefully folded in, so as not to knock out the precious air particles out. Wiggle and gently sway as you do it, think of the lovely beach and the sky and the moon of Hawaii. Failing that, imagine you are wearing a rum calypso sarong. You may be anyway, of course. I'm sure Fanny was.

Fanny Cradock Pineapple Soufflé

Fanny suggests pushing the pineapple gently to the left (altogether now, once more with feeling) and sliding the purée underneath, before gently cutting it in very lightly. Pile the airy mixture into the pineapple cavity so it resembles a dome. It will look nothing like a dome. But Fanny says a dome. She also lovingly wraps the pineapple spikes in foil to protest them once they are in the hot oven. Pop the whole thing in for precisely eight and half minutes and serve, wow and enjoy. You might be compelled to sing a little song as you tuck in to this delightful pudding, if one is in your mind at all? No? Nothing?

Fanny Cradock Pineapple Soufflé

Friday, 11 August 2017

Haysi Fantasy - Johnnie's Pain Is Big Leggy

It seems I have something very particular in common with Fanny Cradock's husband, Johnnie. It's not that I am browbeaten at home, or in the kitchen. It's not that I quiver whenever my partner barks an order at me. It's not that I am shy, retiring or in any way intimidated or fearful of daring to contradict anyone where I feel it necessary. Even Fanny. It's not even that I am partial to a monocle, cravat and a sturdy glass of port to see me through the evening. No, it's something that others find strange, often won't believe at all and quite simply cannot comprehend. I, and Johnnie, hate Rice Pudding.

Fanny Cradock Grand Rice Pudding

For me, I still wince at the thought of the un-tearable, thick, black, leathery, tarpaulin skin that was always atop the Rice Puddings that emerged from the oven at home. I. Couldn't. Bear. To. Look. Never mind eat it. I once sat all night at the kitchen table when my Dad said I 'couldn't leave' until I'd eaten it. I won. Everyone I have ever met in life since (almost) thinks I am missing out. I always felt I was alone. There didn't appear to be a suitable support group for me to join. I just had to remain silent and get on with life. Until now. Johnnie is my saviour.

Fanny Cradock Grand Rice Pudding

Fanny's version of Rice Pudding, is, as expected, slightly different to all others. It's an Olde English recipe which she, naturally, found in France labelled subtly as Une Recette Familiale Anglaise. It does not looks like a Rice Pudding. Good. It does not taste like a Rice Pudding. Smashing. It is made with all the same ingredients as a Rice Pudding. Oh. The key is, it is made in a totally different way. No oven. No Black tent-of-death. No sitting at the table all night. Maybe.

Fanny Cradock Grand Rice Pudding

Fanny makes her Rice Pudding in a double-boiler on the stove-top. She uses Patna pudding rice, which I don't have. The only Rice I can find in my cupboard is Risotto. Which happens to have some Wild Black Rice mixed through it. Feel the Fear. Fanny adds milk, in stages, and a vanilla pod, while it heats. Stirring occasionally, cooking slowly, it seems just like a Risotto to me. Which is soothing. And it turns out that Black Rice is really Red Rice, and turns the whole mixture pink. Added bonus. Once all the milk is absorbed, Fanny adds in two egg yolks one at time, and continues to heat and beat gently before flinging in a little sugar, to taste, and some stiffly whipped cream.

Fanny Cradock Grand Rice Pudding

To tempt Johnnie (and me) even further, Fanny moulds the Rice Pudding and leaves it to cool in the fridge. It's hard to resist a bit of moulding. Fanny disguises it primarily to replace Johnnie's terrible memories. Decorated with seasonal fruit, I have cherries. Seemingly, when she visited him once during World War Two in the Royal Masonic Hospital where he was recovering from tonsillitis (which, Fanny notes is very serious in a grown man) she discovered Johnnie out of his bed, in his pyjamas (thankfully) pushing something down the wash basin that he didn't want the Matron to see. It was English Rice Pudding. Not Fanny's 'fantastic' French Rice Pudding, which he would never say no to. He would never say 'no' to Fanny full stop. Would you?

Fanny Cradock Grand Rice Pudding

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Exile At Castle Rising

Fanny Cradock could never be accused of sitting still. By the time she exploded onto our TV screens in 1955 she'd already had more than a handful of other, diverse, careers. She even continued some of them, using different names for each one, while she baked soufflés and piped swan choux buns for us all. Primarily she wrote. She wrote newspaper columns. She wrote cookbooks. She wrote Children's books. She wrote travel pieces. She wrote nasty letters to people who referred to her as Fanny Craddock. It seems she wrote from the moment she woke up until she fell asleep again. If indeed she ever did sleep.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

She wrote because she was good at it. She wrote because people wanted to read her words. She wrote because it earned her money. By the time the 1970s came along, she'd written nearly ninety books, thousands of weekly newspaper columns and so many nasty letters she'd no doubt worn out a whole factories worth of typewriters. She'd written so much, even she had lost count. Her first books were works of fiction, all penned with the usual Cradock charm but under pseudonyms. She claimed that her first novels were dictated to her from writers beyond the grave, so, according to her publicity, she would only earn a typists fee. Ever the marketeer. In the 70s she hit upon a scheme that was a little more lucrative. Tax evasion.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

Most of her money was tied up in property, her television shows were becoming less frequent, with more demanding contract demands from her making Fanny Cradock more expensive and less appealing, and sadly the weekly part-work wasn't quite the money spinning retirement bundle she had hoped for. She'd long longed to return to her works of romantic fiction. Upon discovering that 'new' authors were eligible for tax-free earnings on 'new' writing for up to ten years in Ireland, she pretty much packed her bags and set up her typewriter in the Emerald Isle. The Castle Rising saga was born, or rather re-born as she already had the first few volumes furtively written. She'd never published fiction using the Fanny Cradock name before...

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

Capitalising on her celebrity, the series of books proved popular, but also became well-read in far flung places where no-one knew how to spell her name wrongly. The books were borrowed and bought the world over. Noses were buried into them, and impatient readers demanded the next, just as one was published. Fanny kept up regular appearances on TV chat shows, travelling to Europe for Nationwide and a series of society shindigs to keep up the illusion she was still 'around', risking a visit from the Tax-man every time she set foot on home soil. However her BBC file (which I was amused to discover was refereed to as The Fanny File) was clearly marked with the Top Secret information of where she was living. Essential for continued contact for work, and of course to send the cheques to.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising

The place was Doneraile in Southern Ireland. Her and Johnnie stayed there for a few years, before seeking alternative tax-free roots, writing or plotting the ten Castle Rising family saga instalments. There was a planned eleventh, which never made it. Perhaps her ten years ran out. Perhaps her loyal readership had enough. Perhaps the publishers had already torn all their hair out trying to put right the huge number of historical inaccuracies and impossibilities contained within the saga. Perhaps Fanny had found another way to make some money. I wonder if she loved her time 'incognito' in Ireland. I passed through the town where she lived the other day, having arranged to see the house. However, the woman who was helping me said 'Ah, if only you were here tomorrow...' despite that being the day I'd said all along. All part of the Irish charm. So, the mystery of where she lived remains, for now. I'll just need to go back. The town appears to pay homage to Fanny Cradock on it's welcome sign though. At least that's what she would think.

Fanny Cradock Castle Rising