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