April and May have been ridiculous months. I love being busy, and I’ve had so much fun seeing lots of old friends and going out and actually doing something, but I’m beginning to get a little sleepy. The weather’s changing, the temperatures starting to rise and I am full on ready to get out there and have an amazing Summer!
Anyway, a quick catch up (I won’t post too much personal stuff because, lets face it, you’re here for food not for my jabberings) – I will mention that it is important though because a recent holiday has had a real influence on my tastes. I went to St Ives last week, and while the weather was pretty choppy, I had such a good food exploration. I’d expect nothing more than freezing wind and rain from the English coast, but I wasn’t quite expecting the quality of all the seafood. It sounds ridiculous saying that, seeing as it’s on the sea. I can think of nothing that would have brought about subconscious assumption, except for the fact that last time I went on and English holiday was about a decade ago and I wasn’t into fish at the time. I was much more of a wild carnivore.
So, next to the beautiful teal sea I had many virginities taken, whelks, cockles (teehee!), mussels, mackerel, king prawns (I know, how has it taken me this long to eat king prawns?). All hideously delicious, all fresh and all consensual, of course. I got home and I felt a little bit sad that I wouldn’t be able to have seafood that fresh again for a while. Damn living inland; I’m going to be having dreams of sunshine, and barbecuing fresh fish for weeks.
Anyway my darlings, onto the post today, My camera suddenly decided it didn’t want to play nice on holiday, and coughed and spluttered into the limbo of half broken technology. So there won’t be any dirty, dirty food porn for the next few weeks until I get a new one. Just close your eyes and imagine something hot smothered in butter. I can almost hear the united sound of people clicking off as I type this. I did manage to get a few pictures from holiday though, so they shall have to do the job of breaking up my wall of text.
I just want to throw out a bit of a random one today. I have issues with biscuits. I really do. After a short amble to biscuit-ville for my friend’s birthday a few weeks ago, I decided that I absolutely had to get over this ridiculous inability to bake them. So I became a woman obsessed. I decided to scrap the old sugar cookie recipe entirely, not because they didn’t work, but just because they were a bit boring. And I don’t really do boring.
So, onwards. I decided to finally try a new recipe from my Laduree book of dreams, that I’ve been meaning to make for quite a while. I am so glad I got a spare afternoon…so very glad!
If you’ve ever been travelling in France, you’ll know there are a few things you need as staples when you’re heading out on a long, enclosed journey (I’m talking about trains or cars more then anything here). Croissants are one of them – that’s pretty obvious – baguettes with cheese and ham are another, bananas, water etc, that’s all pretty standard fare. Spritz biscuits are one of my staples. Partially because they are delicious and partially for the nostalgia value. I’m instantly transported to my family’s jaunts through Europe in an old, bright orange VW campervan. Cheesy, blurry-lensed montages a-plenty over here today.
Anyway, these biscuits are Viennese sable biscuits. Piped, light, and buttery shortbread essentially, and when you bake them yourself, they are truly incredible. If you buy the “all-butter” (I’m very dubious about this claim) navy blue biscuit tins at Christmas, you will like these. They are like these, on taste steroids. Now, don’t pretend you’re not intrigued. Let’s get down to business.
Sablès Viennois (Viennese Shortbread)
190g butter, cubed into small-ish pieces (BUTTER, absolutely not margarine or Stork! Literally the best butter you can afford)
1 pinch of coarse sea salt
75g icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
225g cake flour (fine self-raising flour)
100g good quality dark chocolate
– Preheat your oven to 150C/130C (fan)/gas mark 2 and line a biscuit sheet with greaseproof (dot the corners with butter to stop it sliding around when you pipe the biscuits).
– Over a double boiler, set the butter and salt in a medium bowl. It doesn’t need to melt per-se, but it needs to be very VERY soft, semi liquid almost, so beat it hard with a wooden spoon until it’s all creamy and lovely.
– Remove the butter and whisk it to make sure it’s beautifully smooth (no lumpy butter bits in this mix, oh no!). Add the icing sugar, and mix until well incorporated. Don’t worry about the texture at this point – it’ll get there my lovelies, no stress! Add the vanilla next, and mix again until mixed in nicely. Then add the egg white and stir it in as best you can, it won’t end up a perfect mix, it’ll probably look a little lumpy, just stir it in as best you can, when you add the flour it’ll right itself.
– Add two tablespoons of the flour in and mix until it’s beginning to look like a normal batter/dough. Then add the remaining flour in three stages, just to keep things easy.
– At this point your dough might be runny enough to pipe, but don’t panic. Making this in a really cold kitchen can make the butter start to solidify again, and come on. This is England, even in May it’s single digits, so it will be cold enough to re-solidify butter.
– The best way to test this is to touch the dough, if it’s substantial enough to roll, it’s far too thick. It’s easily remedied though, add milk, a few tablespoons at a time (mix it in in between each addition so you don’t end up with a soup!).
– Once you’ve sorted out the consistency, transfer to a big piping bag, fitted with a large open-star nozzle. You know the huge nozzle you make beautiful cupcake swirls with? Yeah, you can’t use that here. Or you can use whatever nozzle you like really, I’m just going with the one that I liked.
– Pipe into small stars, or fingers, or swirls. Whatever you want really and pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes. If you’re doing all small stars, keep an eye on them after 10 minutes. They will go a beautiful golden colour at the edges, but they don’t need to brown, they will dry a little when they come out the oven, and it’s best to keep them pale.
– Once they’ve cooled down, melt your chocolate up and dip away. Dip the tip, dip half, dip the whole thing. The world is your oyster.
– Viennese Shortbread – good looped around your espresso cup in the morning.
On a final note before I go, I’d like to announce that I’m finally getting my productivity hat on and moving to Canada later this year. I’m only mentioning it right now because I received my conditional acceptance letter not too long ago and I’m incredibly excited.
So, in the spirit of all that is Continental, I’m off to go and make an espresso and make risotto. Toodle oo.