Tag Archives: cardamom

nigel slater’s spiced bread pudding with fried bananas

20 Mar

spiced bread pudding

After a sleepy Saturday wandering from the Buttes-Chaumont  to the Marais, all I wanted was to curl up in my favourite wine-cardigan with something restorative. Luckily Nigel Slater understands me. When I opened his Kitchen Diaries, not only did the Spiced Bread Pudding jump out at me, but the accompanied story almost exactly mirrored one of my own. His recipe is inspired by a visit to Kerala, where he was stuck in “a teetotal oasis” for which he was unprepared: “twenty years ago the lack of alcohol came as a jaw-dropping disappointment after our long, dusty and dangerous drive from hell.” But the pudding made up for it.

We were also in Kerala when we took a six hour bus journey up into the mountains to the tea plantations of Munnar. I had packed a book, but for the first half of the journey I just wanted to watch out of the window, chin pillowed in the crook of my arm. The windows didn’t have any glass, just metal shutters. The dusty air swept in, a salve from the heat. We crossed lagoons that stretched to the horizon, passed banana plantations and busy villages. School-children, whole busfuls, waved at us and shouted HELLO HOW ARE YOU? Each town had at least one temple, mosque and church or shrine with a glass alcove housing a life-size St George and the dragon. Sometimes a few in a row. Trucks thundered by with their colourful head-dresses, painted slogans and flowers. On the back, “Horn Please OK.”  The two-lane road had an invisible third passage in the middle, constantly available for overtaking. The driver would beep and go and somehow the rest of the traffic would flow around us. Once the bus stopped and the passengers all filed out – us worried about our luggage – because apparently the bridge was too fragile. First the bus went across, empty, then we did.

Around halfway we stopped for a chai-break. Around four or five hours in, it got dark all of a sudden as the sun disappeared. Bella distracted me as you might a bored toddler, with iphone games of Clumsy Ninja and Trivial Pursuit. After six hours and a half hours, we scrambled off with our backpacks some way out of the town centre – where there was no-one to direct us to our hotel in the old British club, the only place with a last-minute vacancy. The Lonely Planet had promised us a quaint place perfect for gin and tonics. Sadly, due to licensing issues the three bars in the club could only serve lemonade. We came in just in time for dinner, just in time to read the Club Rules that forbade sandals and panic.

“You haven’t taken any chicken, please take! Come!” The manager barked. Two of us scurried back to the buffet obediently. He was an affable but abrupt character who might have been Basil Fawlty’s brother in another life. Hands in pockets, he gave us a tour of the club: lounge with leather armchairs and obligatory animal heads, library with table-tennis table. “You play? Yes? You will play now, for forty-five minutes.” It wasn’t a question. We could only acquiesce and laugh. It was an uncomfortably British time-warp. Even without our gin-and-tonics, we slept so well that night, totally exhausted.

The next day we visited the factories of the DARE initiative that teaches the differently-abled children of tea-planters: it included a textile workshop for dyes and prints, one for hand-made paper products, a jam factory, a bakery and a kitchen garden. The quality was absolutely incredible, especially the Aranya silks – all-natural, local dyes made of tea-waste, banana leaves, pomegranate skins, Indian madder. The workshops were surrounded by the hills planted with tea bushes, whose crazy mosaic pattern and bright green colour made it feel like we had wandered onto a Tim Burton set. Kerala is full of plantations, tea, coffee, cardamom, coconut palms. Pepper, vanilla. Bananas. Most of the delicious things in life in fact.

A long story to say: this pudding will remind you of exotic climes AND a really comfortable armchair. It works scaled down as solo supper or scaled up for an easy brunch. (Much simpler than pancakes or French toast if you have to feed a crowd – one dish you can prepare ahead.) I like using brioche for extra luxe, but bread and butter will work too. It isn’t too sweet nor too stodgy, more like a creme caramel than a slab of sponge pudding. It offers the intoxicating scent of cardamom and coconut, barely any resistance to the fork as the brioche soaks up the custard, just a few crisp, sugared points poking out. And the fried bananas, sticky and slightly caramelised around the edges, are delightful. It will cure a hangover, the ennui of a recently-returned traveller or the aches and pains of a long commute. Enjoy.

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Nigel Slater’s Spiced Bread Pudding with fried bananas

Slightly adapted from Kitchen Diaries Vol II. If using brioche slices, omit the butter. Great for using up egg yolks if the whites are needed for meringues or macarons.

serves 4 for brunch or 6 for dessert

300g sliced bread or brioche (about 10 slices for me)

a little butter for spreading (not necessary for brioche)

6 green cardamom pods

1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1/8 tsp cinnamon

400ml coconut milk

400ml milk

2 whole eggs + 2 egg yolks

OR 7 egg yolks, about 140g

80g light brown sugar

pinch salt

a sprinkle of sugar for the topping

for the bananas:

50g butter

4 bananas

2tbs sugar

zest of one orange

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter a baking dish (approx 22cm diameter, but more or less is fine). Lightly toast the bread or brioche until golden-brown. If using bread, spread with butter. Cut slices diagonally and arrange the triangles in the dish, points up, overlapping slightly.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush in a pestle and mortar or with the end of a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Mix cardamom, vanilla seeds, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl to combine.

(If you are preparing ahead – stop now. Clingfilm the bread, put the custard mixture in the fridge. Then all you have to do in the morning, or at the end of the main course is heat the oven, pour over the custard and bake.)

Pour custard over bread/brioche. Sprinkle a little more sugar over the points that stick out. Bake for 25 minutes or until the bread is nicely browned and the custard is set. Let it cool for 15 minutes or so before serving. (Equally nice reheated later or the next day.)

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways. Heat the butter in a large frying pan and cook the bananas on both sides until golden and soft. Sprinkle over the sugar and cook for a few more minutes until they start to caramelise around the edges. Stir in orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding.

(For a slightly lighter dessert, serve simply with oranges peeled and sliced into rounds.)

cardamom meringues with flaked almonds

30 Oct

The lack of ‘story’ for these meringues is perturbing me a little, for they were some of the best just-thrown-together-cookies I have made in a long time. Egg whites, sugar, almonds, cardamom. Left in the oven to dry out overnight, wrapped in cellophane and blue ribbon the next morning to give to our favourite fruit lady in town.

Obviously, I stole one to taste, that is how I know they were (though I say so myself) really good.

Meringues make excellent presents: they look pretty, are simple and adaptable and will keep well in an airtight tin. These ones shatter on the outside to reveal a slightly chewy, nutty centre. The almonds take a backseat to the strong scent of cardamom, which makes them just out of the ordinary. Delicious with strong coffee, just a puff of sugar on the tongue and a lasting perfume of spice. They would be even more spectacular made into larger nests, filled with blackberries and whipped cream for an autumn dinner.

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Cardamom meringues with flaked almonds

makes 20 – from an idea by Joy the Baker

2 egg whites

40g caster sugar

40g icing sugar

40g ground almonds

5 pods cardamom, ground

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

40g flaked/slivered almonds to decorate

Sieve the icing sugar and almonds together with the cardamom.

In a large (preferably metal) bowl, whisk the egg whites with a teaspoon of caster sugar until they start to become frothy and white. (This is 100 x easier with an electric whisk.) Gradually add the caster sugar a spoonful at a time until it’s all gone. Keep whisking until it forms a pillowy fluff, satiny smooth.

Gently fold in the almond/icing sugar mix and the vanilla. Try not to deflate the fluff! Scoop blobs onto a baking-paper lined baking sheet and sprinkle them with flaked almonds.

Bake at about 120C for an hour or so, then turn off the oven. Leave the meringues in there for at least another hour, best overnight. Keep in an airtight tin.

alice in wonderland cookies (sablées à la cannelle et cardamome)

27 May

Somewhat selfishly, going home often gets trumped by more exciting places. October meant four sunny days in Barcelona. Christmas was a narrow escape from the snow to Australian beaches. February half term, tea in Munich. Easter, Milan. This summer will be the first time back in Hereford for almost a year.

Home is a beautiful house with a flowery garden, an orchard full of chickens and a trampoline. Big airy rooms. Two sly cats looking to hop up onto a spare lap or an open newspaper. Always something baking in the oven.

But in two or in three, the big rooms echo a little. The dining table seems a little too long. We often end up on the sofa instead, a pan of Sunday-night risotto on the coffee table. Or in the new conservatory with fried eggs and green leaves.

Coming up the drive, lined with daffodils in the spring, I muddle through a tangle of emotions. Comfort, nostalgia, missing. Is missing an emotion? But by not going home, I don’t get to avoid that black hole. In fact, I miss out. I miss out on the familiar. This December, for the first time in years I had to cancel the Christmas Eve Eve tradition of biscuit making.

Five girls (although once one of them was so far away we had to bring a photo replacement) and batches of chocolate and speculoos biscuits to hang on the Christmas tree. Because my mother is Australian, and proud of it, we mainly used patriotic cookie cutters: kangaroos, sheep, the Sydney harbour bridge and opera house. The sheep would always tragically lose a leg in the cutting.

Someone would invariably end up with white flour handprints on their black jeans. There would probably be a mad dash around the counter chased by a demon with a flour shaker. Lots of dancing, lots of raw dough eating. By the time the trays and trays came out of the oven, we didn’t even want to look at the sugary morsels.

This year I’m hoping we can have a summer version of the biscuits tradition. Certainly a summer party: a strange jumble of friends and family milling around outside, eating strawberries, playing croquet. But it would be nice to have a flour fight again, to swap stories of all the grand events and small insignificant moments of the last year. To fill up the house with people.

I will bring my new cookie cutter to rival even the favourite kangaroo. A scalloped rectangle with a grid of letters to be inserted as you like, to spell out love and profanities. I can already see “Hello Sunshine” and “Minger” crookedly stamped onto hearts as we all fight to write our own messages.

Today, I made Alice in Wonderland EAT ME biscuits with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom, appropriate for May but dreaming of December. Sweet and sandy, backed by dark chocolate, they beg to be shared.

Alice in Wonderland cookies

(adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who used a recipe from Dorie Greenspan)

makes about 35 cookies

140g butter, room temperature

125g light brown sugar

1 egg

280g flour

1 tsp cinnamon/cloves/cardamom spice mix

pinch of salt

100g chocolate

Blend the butter with a hand blender/food processor until smooth. Add the sugar, blend until incorporated. Add the egg, blend to a silky consistency. Stir in the flour and pulse the blender until large clumps start to form. Gently push the dough together with your hands into a ball. Divide into two balls and press into a flat disc. Wrap in clingfilm and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Flour your worktop and rolling pin. One disc at a time, carefully roll out the mixture to an even thickness of about 1/2 cm. Stamp out your cookies with a floured cookie cutter. You might need to go over the lettering to make sure it is properly stamped. Place them about 1cm apart on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 10 minutes. They will be just set and a light beige colour, not yet brown. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate  in the microwave in a small shallow bowl. Dip the bottoms of the cookies in chocolate. Or if you have no lettering on top, dip half the cookies in chocolate for a contrasting effect.

The mixture will keep for a few days in the fridge, or a few weeks in the freezer, so you can make a batch at a time.

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