Almonds, Part 1 – Beginnings

Almonds  (Prunus dulcis) originated in Asia. The word is derived from the Greek word for almond, amygdala ( also two groups of neurons in the brain). The word then became the Latin amandola and finally the Old French word almande or allemande.
Known by the Romans as Greek nuts and widely used in the Middle Ages to make soups and desserts it was eaten dried throughout the ages by Nomadic tribes as a healthy addition to their diets. Almonds originated in Palestine, Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan and were amongst the earliest domesticated fruit trees on earth. The fruit is not a true nut, but a drupe. The period between 3,000 – 2,000 BC sees almonds proliferate in the East and in Europe. Today the USA is the biggest producer in the World, followed by the Spain, Syria, Italy, Iran, Morocco, Algeria with Tunisia and Greece as minor contributors.  The balance of the production is made up from Turkey, Lebanon and China.

There are two kinds of almonds, the edible sweet almond and the bitter almond that contains hydrocyanic acid and can be poisonous. Bitter almonds are used in small amounts strictly for flavouring purposes and have been for centuries. Almonds lower the levels of LDL cholesterol by as much as 9% and increase the HDL by 4.6%.  The Ayurveda health care system teaches that the almond nourishes the brain, increases intellectual levels and longevity and tests have proved that almonds do have immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory and anti-hepatotoxicity effects.

In South Africa almonds have been an essential part of the Cape cuisine since 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck first arrived there. A vibrant multitude of settlers in the Cape ensured that an extraordinarily rich and complex culture in food was created at the outset. The East, Malaysia, Indonesia, the French and the Dutch are only a few of the nations that write the recipes of the South African cuisine.

One of the earlier recipes including almonds refers to a traditional French recipe for calissons d’Aix a delicious biscuit baked in a hot oven for only ten minutes (image above).  A late 1600’s recipe for Almond loaf pops quite often but since it requires about three hours of kneading and I have never made it, I have decided not to include it today. A late 1700’s recipe for an Almond cake as well as my mother’s (or grandmother before her) almond tart. These are so rich that one can be sure no thought was given to cholesterol and other modern day qualms.

Nowadays ground almonds are used in biscuits, cakes, sauces, slivered in meat dishes and roasted whole as a snack.

EARLY CAPE ALMOND CAKE

600 g sweet almonds
35 grams butter
125 ml orange water
20 egg yolks
8 egg whites
125 ml brandy
2 lemons, zest only
500 g superfine caster sugar

Pre heat the oven to 280 C
Prepare a wide cake pan (similar to one that would be used for a Breton flat cake) with greaseproof or silicon paper

Combine butter, sugar and yolks until they are white and fluffy in a food processor. Add the brandy, orange water and zest and then mix in the almonds and the egg whites, adding the ground almond after each white.  Combine well and process for about 10 minutes.

Bake for 30 – 45 minutes, watching it carefully.  When golden, remove and allow to rest.

EBIE’S ALMOND TART

I am going to supply this recipe exactly as it appears in her very old, already disintegrating, handwritten book, but am converting quantities to metric ones for ease of reference.

Line a deep tart tin with sweet pastry and spread with apricot jam. Half fill with a mixture made as follows:

Beat 125 grams of butter with 125 grams of sugar, add 4 large eggs one at a time and then stir in 125 grams of ground almonds and a pinch of salt.

That was it!!!  I bake it in a preheated oven on 190 C for 30 – 40 minutes.

To pair, a suggestion by a very busy yet extremely knowledgeable young lady from Tea Escapade, “I think I would pair the almond tart with White Peony by Pearl Fine Teas. While White Peony is flavorful it is a White Tea and thus is significantly milder than a black or green tea. Thus the taste of the tea will not overpower the taste of the almond tart.  Simultaneously, the natural sweetness of White Peony allows one to enjoy a cup without the addition of sweetener“.

ROASTED ALMONDS

750g peeled almonds
1 kg demarara sugar
10 ml ground ginger
2 ml salt
15 ml butter
15 ml cake flour
30 ml milk
375 ml water

Combine sugar, butter and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar has been dissolved completely and it has a. Cook until soft ball stage. Now mix the flour with the milk and add to the ginger and the salt to the liquid. Remove from heat and beat with a wooden spoon until cool.  Add the nuts immediately and put spoonfuls onto a greased baking tray.

Allow to set, when hard, store in an airtight tin.

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Bread – Five Most Common Uncommon Types

PARANTHA

An unleavened Indian flatbread that hails from the ancient North Indian region of Punjab and was, initially, made for special guests. Spread with homemade butter, it was eaten by dipping into homemade yogurt or lassi, a buttermilk drink also from Punjab. Nowadays, this golden brown yet extremely supple bread is eaten hot with chutney and yoghurt as an accompaniment to curry or simply with pickles and vegetables. Another favourite, Htat ta ya, (a hundred layers), is a fried flaky paratha (resembling puff pastry) which is sometimes eaten with sugar or boiled peas . Kerala porota, an oval shaped paratha is left to prove for at least 4 hours to ensure maximum softness and will get you ‘hooked’ for ever. During Ramadan, Muslims from the Indian subcontinent often eat parathas for breakfast as they believe that the butter and flour mixture are not only a good source of calories but will also stave off hunger pangs and help sustain a person throughout the long day.

BRETZEL

A twisted rope of shiny, yeasty bread made from superlative white flour. There are two kinds, soft as well as crisp and both are delicious but I think that a soft, salt sprinkled bretzel with a thick slice of Limburger cannot be beaten. In Germany bretzl dough is dipped into a solution of sodium hydroxide in order to give it a shiny brown crust. The name comes from the word bracellus (latin for crossed arms). It is absolutely delicious!

PUMPERNICKEL

This classic bread is made from a variety of rye flour grades and is started with sourdough. I cannot imagine eating smoked eel or chopped herrings with anything else. True German pumpernickel is traditionally made with coarsely-ground rye meal, but nowadays a combination of rye flour and whole rye berries is used. It originated in Westphalia in 1450.  Westphalian pumpernickel is baked, covered with a lid and essentially steamed for a long baking period which  gives it its characteristic dark colour. The bread can emerge from the oven deep brown, even black. Traditionally it  contains no colouring agents, instead relying on the Maillard reaction to produce its characteristic dark chocolate flavour with it’s earthy coffee aftertaste. They are baked for 16 to 24 hours at a low temperature (120°C) in a steam-filled oven. Because they are baked in long narrow pans with a lid pumpernickel has little or no crust. True German pumpernickel is produced only in Germany

SODA BREAD

steaming hot and crisp crusted there is little to beat fresh soda bread, sharp cheddar and marmalade with an early morning cuppa for breakfast. It originated in 1840 in Ireland, when bicarbonate of soda was first introduced and added, along with salt and sugar to wheat flour and baked in the oven or on a griddle. Shaped immediately after kneading, rested for no more than 15 minutes, a cross cut in the middle and baked produces really outstanding results. Legend has it that the cross was placed in the bread to ward off evil, but I think it was merely put there for cutting purposes afterwards.

BAGELS

Derived from the French word bague (a ring) and the German word for a stirrup (Beugel) – with typically firm crusts and soft centers they are amongst the most beloved of uncommon bread. Fresh Scottish Salmon and cream cheese on bagels have to be an international favourite. They are made using an ancient technique whereby the yeast-raised dough is first boiled briefly. If it isn’t boiled, it isn’t a bagel – as simple as that. It is said that they originated in Warsaw when Jewish bakers made them in honour of the victory of King Jan Sobieski at the battle of Vienna in 1863, but like all stories there are many versions. Observant Jewish families traditionally made bagels on Saturday evenings at the conclusion of the Sabbath because bagels could be baked very quickly as soon as it ended.

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Sukkot in Curacao

Curacao is home to one of the oldest Jewish congregation in the Western hemisphere. In 1651 the first brave Jews arrived on this far flung island to form an agricultural community and the first thing they did was to build a wooden synagogue. They named their tiny congregation Mikve Israel (Hope of Israel). I feel it is fitting to pay tribute to them today as Jews across the world commemorate 40 years of wandering in the desert. Jews kept on coming to Curacao to escape the inquisition in Europe and later in the 1920’s to flee persecution. The community of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews on this tiny island created a rich and glorious cuisine by incorporating island traditions into their own and making use of what was available.

The following torte, surely of Lithuanian origin, feels perfect for today. I was given this recipe in Warsaw a long time ago by a Jewish lady who was back in her home town on holiday. She lived in Curacao and was impatient to return as it was winter in Warsaw and bitterly cold. I have made this many times and for today’s hurried lifestyle, it just seems perfect.

UGAT SCHEKADEME
(Chocolate and almond torte)

200 g ground almonds
200 g grated Lindt chocolate (70 % cocoa solids)
250 g superfine caster sugar
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
7 eggs, separated
1 lime, zest and juice

Icing

100 g Lindt chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
1 tablespoon water
2 level tablespoons caster sugar
250 ml double cream
2 tablespoons Crème de Cacao

Preheat oven to 200 C

Grease and line 2 x 20 cm  spring form cake tins.
Combine the almonds, crumbs and grated chocolate. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peak stage and add the sugar, a little at a time. Now simultaneously whisk egg yolks with the lime zest, fold into the whites and then add the dry ingredients and the lemon juice. When everything is combined spoon into the tins, bake for 30 minutes until golden and firm.  Check with skewer to ensure that it is cooked

For the icing put chocolate, water and sugar and sugar into a small pot and heat very gently until the chocolate melts and then add the cream.  Bring to boil and then take off the heat immediately.  Refrigerate overnight and the next day whisk in the liqueur until it becomes as thick as whipped cream and use as icing. For a really smooth finish, warm again over simmering water until really soft ice with spatula.

Fill and coat the cake.

CHALAPCHES
(Stuffed cabbage)

1 large cabbage
130 g home made tomato puree
500 g cranberry sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
90 g raisins
50 ml olive oil
500 g minced beef
1 egg
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 lime, zest and juice
Salt and white pepper to taste

Carefully nip off leaves from a cabbage that has been lightly blanched – one needs to get the leaves just soft enough to stuff without breaking.  Should you want to use any of the cabbages with softer leaves this step is not necessary. Pour the cranberry sauce, the lemon juice and the tomato puree into a roasting pan and stir in the brown sugar and ½ of the raisins.  In a separate bowl mix the meat with the rest of the ingredients including the zest and then put 1 tablespoon of the meat stuffing onto each leaf. Roll the leaf over the meat filling to cover the meat completely and form a neat parcel. Place the cabbage meat parcels into the roasting tin make sure that they are immersed in the sauce. Cover and bake for 2 hours over a low heat – I put it on 160 C.  *If not immersed, turn them around once in this period so that the side that doesn’t get tomato & cranberry sauce is also covered for a period.
Check the sauce in the roasting pan and reduce a little if necessary.
Refrigerate overnight.
Heat the next day and serve with sauce poured over the chalapches.

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Ebie’s Gâteau Breton (Breton Cake)

This is my mother’s recipe.  Fiercely and proudly Afrikaans, her food was always heavily influenced by the French and we were nurtured on her own exquisite fusion of French and Cape cooking.  She paid little attention to cholesterol or calories when we were younger and allowed only her passion to guide her.  As my father’s health faded over the years, her cooking style changed too and it is only now that I realize that the passion was reserved only for him.  The day he died, she never cooked again. In her honour then, I share this with you.

It is dead easy and I have made dozens of my own versions, but this is the basic one and the most delicious.

Ingredients

475 g flour
475 g sugar
500 g salted butter
8 extra large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cognac (she used brandy or rum, but I prefer cognac)
2 tablespoons milk

Method

Make a hollow in the sieved flour and add the sugar and the softened butter, mixing it well with your fingertips. Stir in 7 egg yolks, add the cognac until a smooth dough is formed.  It is perfectly acceptable to use a food processor instead.

Grease a springform cake pan with butter, dust with flour and press the dough evenly into the pan. Mix the remaining egg yolk with the milk and coat the surface of the dough with it, scoring a grid pattern with a fork.

Bake on a 200 C pre-heated oven for 45 minutes.
Please keep an eye on the oven the first time.

Serve with a chilled bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée because I feel that only Krug could possibly be good enough for this gâteau.  Since this is not the most expensive bottle in the Krug stable it will not break the bank.

After making a complete idiot of myself recently, I embarked upon a voyage of self education recently. To this end I attended a Champagne tasting only to learn that I had a lot to learn. Apparently loving wine and knowing what you like, is not good enough.  I will share this voyage with you when occasion calls for it, but I have so much to learn that the occasion will be rare. Krug has to be the non plus ultra of champagne and requires no learning, the taste provides an instant education. It is only always the best. The Grande Cuvée is made from Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Fermented in small oak barrels at first, it is later transferred to stainless-steel tanks which ensure optimum freshness.  Krug has belonged to Moët en Chandon since 2004 and has benefited hugely from the financial injection.  Henri Krug religiously ensures that all bottles are aged for six years before release.
I tasted citrus, followed by butter and hazelnuts – a perfect partner for the rich buttery cake with the spicy fruit of the Chardonnay certainly matching the depth of this great gateau!

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Buttermilk Basics

Hundreds of years ago when buttermilk was common in all households that churned their own butter, it was consumed daily, made into buttermilk cheese and the excess fed to farm animals.

Nowadays, it is either drunk by humans or used as an ingredient in cooking. Whilst very popular in the Scandinavian countries, it is only used for baking in Europe. In South Africa and the USA buttermilk has been used in food from the beginning and in the rest of the world it is fast gaining popularity. In many countries in the Middle East (and India) it accompanies daily meals and is popular and used widely. It makes a nourishing breakfast, is used as a drink with meals from India to the Middle East where it is, also, used as an aid to digestion and in Muslim countries (like the UAR) buttermilk is used for breaking the fast during Ramadan.

Buttermilk is a slightly sour, fermented, white liquid usually containing little specks of butter. It is formed when butter is churned from cream and is rich in nitrogen and lactose but poor in lipids.
There are four types of buttermilk:

  • Sweet cream buttermilk – the liquid residue from fresh cream that has been churned into butter. This is the traditional buttermilk and is much thinner than the artificially produced brew available in most of the retail outlets nowadays.
  • Sour cream buttermilk, a by-product of butter and produced from raw, unpasteurized cream that has soured naturally or by the addition of a bacterial culture.
  • Traditional buttermilk, which is much thinner than the artificially produced brew available in most of the retail outlets nowadays, is made from the fluid extracted when butter was churned from cream.
  • Cultured buttermilk, like skim milk, consists of 90 % water, 5% milk sugar lactose and about 3% of the protein, casein. It is made from low-fat milk contains about 2% butterfat. In both low-fat and nonfat buttermilk, some of the lactose is converted by the bacteria into lactic acid, hence the sour taste.

Buttermilk has less fat and less kilojoules than ordinary milk because the fat has been removed to make butter.  It is high in potassium, vitamin b12 and in calcium.  It is also much more easily digestible and contains much more lactic acid than skimmed milk.

BUTTERMILK RUSKS FOR LISA

I dedicate these to an impossibly beautiful, tall and intelligent woman who also happens to be my daughter and the woman I respect and love most in the world. I thank God every day for her.

Rusks were baked by the Voortrekker women for their families. There was little time or opportunity for them to prepare breakfast for their families whilst on trek and these certainly did the trick. Rusks have formed part of the Afrikaans culture for centuries and are now intrinsically woven into the culinary fabric of all South Africans.

Ingredients

1 kg self-raising flour
400 g butter
100 ml sunflower oil
500 ml buttermilk
200 ml sugar
200 ml honey
20 ml baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1000 ml oat bran
250 ml wheat germ
500 ml sunflower seeds
125 ml sesame seeds
125 ml pumpkin seeds
350 ml crushed pecan nuts
60 ml poppy seeds
3 extra large eggs, beaten until frothy

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180 C

Mix flour, bran, pecan nuts and all the other seeds into a large mixing bowl. Rub in the butter with the tips of your fingers until a bread-crumb like consistency is formed.
Combine eggs with the dough mixture and add the buttermilk and oil to form a smooth, soft dough.

Place in a well prepared baking tray and cut into dipping size squares using a wet knife. Should the knife become sticky and covered in dough, wipe clean. Bake for about 50 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from oven, allow to rest and cool and break into dipping sized rusks.

Dry in a cool oven, around 60 degrees, depending on your oven.

When completely dry, remove and pack away into an airtight container.  This is a wonderful and nourishing breakfast or a great pick me up when the afternoon hunger pangs set in.

Luckily the recipe is just in time for the weekend!

GALIEMAH’S BUTTERMILK COCOLIME CAKE

This is a little fussy but Galiemah has a few short cuts.  She uses sosatie skewers to keep the cake firm after layering and then she refrigerates it for about an hour. Before icing, the skewers go out, the icing is applied and the dessicated coconut is patted firmly against the icing before it has a chance to set.

Ginger-lime curd
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼  cup grated lime zest
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into little blocks at room temperature

Cake
5 cups sifted cake flour, sifted & then measured
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½  cups butter again at room temperature
3 cups sugar
8 large eggs
2 cups buttermilk at room temperature

Icing
1 ½  cups sugar
2 large egg whites
about 1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons golden syrup
¼ cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups of dessicated coconut

Method

Ginger-lime curd
Whisk the eggs, sugar, lime juice & zest, ginger and and salt in large bowl. Put this bowl over pot of barely simmering water  and whisk constantly until the mixture thickens (about 10 minutes).  Take the bowl off the pot and whisk in the butter. Put the mixture through a sieve if you like. Cover tightly with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

Cake

Preheat oven to 350°F and prepare cake pans.
Beat butter and sugar together until light and frothy after which you whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Sift in flour mixture (all the dry ingredients sifted together) and buttermilk alternately.  In other words, add the flour and then a bit of buttermilk and then so on. Whisk in eggs individually and then pour equally into cake pans. Bake on for about 35 minutes until golden brown and  the skewer comes out clean. Please note that all ovens are different and you will have to keep an eye on your cake.
When cool, stack layers together with ginger lime curd in between and when you reach the final layer, spread the last curd on top. You should be able to make four layers with this recipe.

Icing
Whisk egg whites, sugar, 1/3 cup water,  syrup and cream of tartar in large bowl.
Put bowl over a pot of lightly simmering water and with your little electric mixer beat on medium speed until mixture looks like white, thick soft fluff. Take bowl off the water and add vanilla extract and whisk until the mixture is cool. Take the dessicated coconut and press against the icing of the entire cake.

This recipe is from a Cape Malay friend of mine that lives in an area in Cape Town known as the Bo-Kaap. It should, therefore, only be served with tea –  try  Dilmah Ceylon Supreme, surely your best bet!

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Butter, Part 2 – France

The Scythians, a most barbaric group of nomadic tribes, were the first people to make butter which they used chiefly for medicinal purposes. They had learned how to do this whilst still living in Mesopotamia. So important was the manufacture of butter that a specific category of slaves were appointed to do only that. According to legend these poor slaves had their eyes removed so that nothing would distract them from churning the butter, however, there is absolutely no proof of this. To get back to France which is, after all, under discussion here, the Gauls (image of a statue below) were the first to use butter for cooking (except for the Scandinavian countries) in Europe, but it was the Normans that introduced it to them. The Normans, in turn, had learned this from the Danes, who had all but perfected its use as an essential ingredient in cooking. The Scythians, having left Mesopotamia (current day Iran) lived far north in the Russian areas, so it would have been easy for them to send it to the Scandinavian countries as they were expert horsemen.


Before butter was produced and distributed in the format we know today, it was mrketed locally and produced at home. Then the Gauls brought it (often coloured with marigold flowers), to the markets wrapped in herbs or sorrel leaves. It would then be stored in earthernware pots and covered with salted water. Soon the colouring was forbidden because even in the days of the Gauls, it’s production was regulated and, for example, could not be sold near fish stalls.  Later, the Catholic Church forbade the use of butter during Lent, unless of course a generous contribution was made to the “butter chest” which, thanks to people like the Archbishop Georges d’Ambroise provided funds to build one of the most exquisite cathedrals in France, the Rouen Cathedral. I have a special fascination for Rouen, because my son, Richardt, was named for Richard Lionheart whose tomb, image below, can be found there. His heart lies buried here.


It is interesting to note, though it has nothing to do with butter, that his bowels were buried inside the Chateau of Châlus-Chabrol from whose walls the crossbow bolt that killed him was fired and his bodily remains were buried next to his dad at the Fontevraud Abbey. Should you want to visit it, he is the one lying on top of his tomb with his name on the side.  I have never understood why his bowels, specifically, had to be at Châlus-Chabrol. Now that I think of it, to say that the French do not waste is an understatement.

Unlike in Africa and Asia where butter was (and still is I believe) made from the milk of buffalo, camel, goats and donkeys, the French favoured cows, sheep and goats milk.  Below an image of cow’s milk butter on the left and goat’s milk butter on the right.


Butter, as the French know it today, has only been made in this way for a little over 100 years. Thanks, to the phylloxera that destroyed the vines in France, many devastated wine farmers had no option but to turn into dairy farmers.  Being French, they excelled at it and the first cooperative was opened in 1888 at which point pasteurization and selective breeding flourished because the Atlantic coast’s damp weather was perfect for the growth of lush vegetation so necessary for feed.
In Echiré (north east of Niort) the local inhabitants founded a cooperative in 1894 and to this day milk is collected from the local farms by their own trucks. As soon as the cream has been separated, milk ferment is added (1 to 2 %) and then left to mature, biologically, for about 18 hours (give or take a few) at 14 C.  It is beaten in massive, strong, teak churns which then breaks down the membranes of these little fat globules so that the butter fat is released and coagulates into even bigger lumps which are called the butter grains.  As soon as these grains are the size of peas, the almost fat free buttermilk is drained off and whatever remains of the buttermilk is rinsed off with fresh spring water to prevent it from tasting like cheese. It’s kneaded so that the grains produce a uniform mass with approximately a 16 percent moisture content. The finished Echiré butter is wrapped in gold foil and put in its characteristic small basket. I am almost sure that nobody forgets the taste of this butter. Ever. Whilst there are dozens of incredibly good butters in France – from places like Normandy, Charentes-Poitou and a many other areas –  it is the Echiré that I never forget.


In closing, I have to do something I have never done before and that is to recommend a book. Molecular Gastronomy by Hervé This is, probably, the best read I have had in while. He puts clarifies age old questions, poses new ones and puts food into perspective in a way that no other book ever has.  Easy to read, excellently researched and fascinating, the book brings up an interesting point relating to butter.
I have always been fascinated by the fact that that butter, containing at least 15% water, could seem to be a solid. He explains it so simply, and I quote:
Because of the crystals that increase with cooling and interlock with one another; Scraped with a knife, butter seems to soften, not because it is heated but because the crystals are separated.
To have an idea how these discoveries can be used in cooking, try testing split crystallization yourself. Melt the butter and skim off the solids as they form, just as the physical chemists did. You will then be able to manufacture your own butters by mixing proportions of solids and liquids and in this way obtain the specific texture appropriate to a particular dish.


I am including some recipes again, however, please note that these are my interpretations of the French recipes and in most cases, I have altered them as I see fit.

FLAVOURED BUTTERS OF PROVENCE

BEURRE à L’AIL (GARLIC BUTTER)

100 g butter
4 cloves garlic crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 lemon, zest and juice
Olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pound garlic, parsley and zest with the butter in a mortar. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and a little olive oil to create a smooth butter.

BEURRE AU BASILIC (FRESH BASIL BUTTER)

100 g butter
Fresh basil leaves to taste
Olive oil
Salt to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste

Pound and blend as above

There are many other possibilities, like saffron (au safran), black olive (aux olives), anchovy (aux anchois), almond (d’amandes), crab or prawn (de crabe ou de cervettes), hazlenut (de noisettes), Montepellier (de Montpellier), lobster (de homard), red peppers (aux poivrons rouge) or a myriad of others.   All recipes available on request.
I recently dug out this Catalan recipe and reminded myself of a visit to Perpignon where I swore I wanted to live for the rest of my life.  I have done that a few times in my life, usually influenced by the food of the region and I will show you why.  One of the most astonishing deserts in Catalonia is the mei i mato (goats milk cream cheese sprinkled with honey) which requires no recipe and so to close, an unusual

TATIN D’AUBERGINES AUX POMMES

4 apples (golden delicious), peeled and cored & sliced into 12 pieces
2 aubergines (eggplants), peeled & thinly sliced
100 g butter
100 g sugar
1 egg yolk
Frozen flaky pastry

Preheat the oven to 200
Thaw the pastry dough.

Melt the butter in a round non-stick baking pan and then add the sugar gradually allowing it to caramelize. Remove from the heat and arrange in alternative slices of apple and aubergines in a circle over the caramel on the bottom of the pan. Scatter small pieces of butter over this and then make a second layer of apple and eggplant.

Place in the oven for about 15 minutes until lightly browned and roll the pastry dough over the tart.
Brush with egg yolk and bake for 35 minutes. Turn upside down and serve so that the pastry forms the base.

The types of butter commonly produced in France are:

  • Farmhouse butter – usually made from unpasteurized milk and naturally matured cream. Always prepared in the area of origin and under the strictest of strict hygiene controls. My absolute favourite butter.
  • Pasteurized butter – this is made in factories, officially monitored and not my favourite.
  • Dairy butter – also pasteurized but not good enough for the Ministry of Agriculture’s approval and is sold as table butter or cooking butter. Watch out for these.
  • Sweet butter – this is made from creams with low acidity and is a fragile and uncommon butter. It does not keep well at all!
  • EEC butter – this butter is purchased by the governments when too much butter is produced in Europe. It is deep-frozen for no more than a year and placed on the market when demand is high and the prices are then lower than the cheapest butter. There is nothing wrong with it except that it will not keep for more than a week.
  • Imported butter – usually from Denmark or Holland, it is excellent butter and usually whiter than the French butter. The country of origin must always be indicated as this is a legal requirement.
  • Restored butter – made from really bad quality cream, reblended with bicarbonate of soda for deacidification and is very rare. If you see it, avoid it.
  • Salted butter – this contains about 1,5 to 2 g of butter per 100 g. It actually improves both taste and texture of the food when used in cooking.
  • Regional butter – produced only in the specific regions using cream from the local dairy cows, thus preserving and ensuring distinctive flavours, textures and colours.
  • Concentrated butter – again known as cooking butter and containing 96% butterfat and a low moisture content. Can be used for frying and it does not decompose at high temperatures. It keeps well.

Hope this helps!

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Butter, Part 1 – Buttered Beginnings

Brief intro, recipes

My next series will be on butter so herewith a brief introduction to get it all into perspective. The Swiss, the Scandinavians, the Dutch, the Belgians and the Brits all make incredibly good butter as do the French and I will start with them in my next article and highlight their famous Echiré, simply because I love their butter and for no other reason.

Butter was first made around 9,000 – 8,000 BC in and around Mesopotamia and it was probably made from sheep and goat’s milk for the simple reason that there were no cows roaming around yet.  Whilst cows had been domesticated in Iraq around that time, they weren’t common and I’m not so sure that they had reached that stage where milking them would be the breeze it is today. See an earlier insert called “Did you know?”


Butter was made, then, as it still is in some remote parts of Africa, by half-filling a goat skin with milk, blowing air into it, sealing it and then hanging the skin with ropes on a tripod to be rocked about until butter was formed.  It stands to reason that they would have discovered this luxury when they transported milk for personal use.

The Mediterranean countries knew of the existence and use of butter, but they didn’t use it that much, probably for two reasons, a) they used olive oil and b) it may have been impractical given their lifestyle and weather. However, there were mixed opinions on butter – the Greek poet Anaxandrides called the Thraciansboutyrophagoi” (butter eaters) and he wasn’t being nice about it, but Pliny the Roman, on the other hand, felt that it was a most elegant food eaten by barbarous nations.  Ironic that it was those very barbarous nations that destroyed his own seemingly sophisticated one.

During the Renaissance, the Scandinavian countries became the most significant butter exporters and thanks, probably, to their cooler climates but also to superior feeding, extraordinarily good vegetation and good old-fashioned animal husbandry it thrived.
They started exporting significantly around the 12th century.  After Rome’s demise butter was commonly used throughout Europe even though not considered a luxury item then. As with all good things, the peasants ate it first and it took some time before the upper classes realised what they were missing.  The Brits, in particular, took to eating butter very enthusiastically and for this reason I include here one of their famous and rather delicious bread and butter puddings.

BRITISH BREAD AND BUTTER PUDDING

This 17th century pudding must not be confused with Bread Pudding which is popular in many other countries around the world. At the same time that bread and butter pudding was born, marrow pudding (or whitepot) and which is made with bone marrow instead of butter, was also very popular.

Ingredients

400 g unsalted butter
125 g sultana’s or seedless raisins
50 ml good brandy
10 thick slices white bread, crusts removed
150 ml marmalade (apricot jam, optional)
4 egg yolks
1 whole egg
60 g demerara sugar
500 ml thick cream
250 ml milk
2 lemons, zest only
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Method

Preheat oven to 200 C

Soak the sultanas in the brandy, warming them in microwave for 1 – 2 minutes before you add them to the pudding.
Grease baking dish well with butter. Sandwich the bread, butter and marmalade together and make sure that you have a little butter left to sprinkle over the top later. Quarter or halve the sandwiches and arrange them along the middle of the pudding dish in whichever way you prefer. (You can also cut the bread in half diagonally, spread butter and jam and not sandwich them, but it makes for a pretty messy beginning).
Sprinkle over the sultanas and brandy. Whisk the egg yolks and egg together with the sugar, spices, zest and pour in the cream and milk to this mixture.
Pour this over the triangles of bread and let them stand for about 10 minutes before putting it into the oven. Dot lavishly with butter and sugar and allow to bake for about 45 minutes until the custard has set and puffed up slightly. Allow to rest and serve with whipped cream or custard.

BEARNAISE SAUCE

Bearnaise sauce was irst made around 1830 by Collinet in a restaurant in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye called the Pavillon Henri IV.  However, a recipe, similar to this appeared in La Cuisine des villes et des campagnes which was published in 1818.

Ingredients

½ cup white wine vinegar
2 shallots, grated
2 tbs fresh tarragon and chervil, finely chopped
1 tiny sprig of thyme
½ tsp white pepper
4 egg yolks
½ cup boiling water, cooled to room temperature
1 cup warm butter, soft enough to break into little knobs

Method

Mix the vinegar, shallots, pepper and tarragon in a small pot. Bring to boil and simmer to reduce by two thirds.
Remove from stove, allow to cool slightly, and beat egg yolks in one at a time, whisking constantly. Add the water and make sure that it is completely incorporated. Keep pot over very low heat whilst starting to whisk in the butter, a little know at a time, ensuring that the butter is the same temperature as the egg mixture. Strain the sauce through a sieve if you like. Check and correct the seasoning and adjust the salt to taste
I have to admit that I make the béarnaise in a blender nowadays.

In the North of Europe butter was manufactured rather differently.  Packed into barrels (firkins) and buried in peat bogs for years, it developed a unique flavour during the ageing process and strangely, remained edible. The surroundings were cool, airless and the antispecic acidity of the bog preserved it.  The Irish did this regularly and if you go to the Irish National museum you will find  a sample.  It looks hideous but apparently no putrefaction has occurred at all.

BUTTERED CHALLA

Ingredients

The yeast mix
275ml warm water
1 sachet yeast
275g strong white flour

The dough

175g unsalted butter, softened
500g strong white flour
125ml milk
2 level tbsp caster sugar
1½ tsp salt
3 egg yolks
1 egg, beaten for brushing
Beat the yeast ingredients in a bowl, then cover and leave for a couple of hours.

In a large bowl, rub the butter through the flour until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Bring the milk to a boil, set aside until lukewarm and dissolve the sugar and salt in it.  Beat in the yolks well and whisk into the yeast mix, then add to the buttery flour and mix. Cover, leave for 10 minutes and then lightly knead the dough on a oiled work surface for about a minute. Repeat twice every 10 minutes, cover the dough for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into three. Roll each piece into a sausage and plait together into a snug loaf. Preheat oven to 220 C. Line a tray with non-stick paper, put the loaf on top, cover loosely with cling wrap and allow to double in size. Brush the loaf with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds (optional). Bake for 30 – 35 minutes.

BAKKERSKLOOF BUTTER BISCUITS

250 g butter, softened
250 g sugar
2 teaspoons honey
500 g flour
10 g ground cardamom
5 g dried rosemary, ground
7 g baking powder
60 g icing sugar

Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl.  As soon as it’s light add the honey and spices and mix it well. Add the flour and baking powder mixture to the creamed butter mixture, incorporating everything very well. Divide the dough into about 8 portions and roll out into slim logs. Place them about 6 cm apart on an ungreased baking tray and then bake them at about 200 C until they are a pale golden brown colour for about 25 minutes Cut them into 2 cm slices and let them cool down on a rack.  Dust with icing sugar.

CAPE  MALAY BUTTER BISCUITS

250 g soft butter
7,5 ml ordinary sunflower oil
500 ml yellow sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten well
3 cups cake flour
1 cup corn flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla extract and oil together until light and fluffy at which point the beaten egg is added. Beat in the flour and the bicarbonate of soda and mix well until a stiff dough is formed. Roll this out onto a floured surface and cut out which ever shape you like. Traditionally a diamond shape is used and each biscuit is decorated with candied angelica and cherries. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for 200 C for ten minutes.

Cool on wire racks.

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