Coconut Panna Cotta

Country of origin: Italy

For a dessert after spicy food, I was looking for something light and refreshing that was more than just fruit. I thought that this Coconut Panna Cotta recipe by Heidi Swanson from her book, Super Natural Cooking would do the trick. I served it with mango coulis and shortbread biscuits which were a real cinch to make, but do sadly take down the healthiness rating of the dish. The only downside was that the agar flakes didn’t fully dissolve and sank to the bottom of the puddings.

Panna cotta in its original form is a rich, cream-based dessert, set with gelatine or a vegetarian equivalent. Delicious served with a berry coulis.

This recipe is very quick to make: both coconut and cow’s milk, sugar and agar flakes/powder are heated together and poured into oiled molds to set. However, I lost my nerve when simmering the liquid and took it off the heat too early, resulting in large specks of agar flake that weren’t fully dissolved. I put the mixture through a sieve, but little specks remained which I hoped would dissolve; I think agar powder would have better than flakes. Once you have poured the mixture into molds, they go in the fridge for an hour to set.

The mango coulis is made by chopping and blitzing two ripe mangoes with some lemon juice and superfine/caster sugar to taste. It should go through a fine sieve to get it nice and smooth.

The shortbread biscuits had three ingredients: butter, butter and butter (and a little flour and sugar). Mix, roll and cut into the required shapes, chill in the fridge for 20 minutes and then bake.

Due to all the agar flakes not dissolving, the panna cotta was a little too soft and ready to collapse, but for a quick, rich but not-too-heavy dessert this was good.

Salmon and Watercress Quiche

Country of origin: France/England

I’ve never made quiche before, but I’m glad I finally did. A useful item to make in advance and delicious both hot or cold, with a crispy salad. It’s basically some version of pastry (commonly shortcrust), ingredients of your choice, baked in a rich egg and cream custard.

It takes a while due to the chilling of the dough and blind baking etc, but you can prepare the filling while you wait. I had to do some hole-repairing  but it didn’t leak in the end, phew.

I used a Nigel Slater recipe for salmon and watercress quiche. Whilst it was very rich and filling, I would prefer something with a little more sharpness, for example roast vegetables and goat’s cheese, and have since tried asparagus with goat’s cheese, which was a great combination.

To make this recipe less calorific and stodgy, I’d like to try this recipe for an olive oil crust, and try using half milk and half cream for the filling.

Tarte au Citron

Country of origin: France

Tarte au citron is something that I’ve eaten countless times; I’ve sampled dull, over-creamy ones with just a whisper of lemon, more tart custard creations and also crispy pastry shells filled simply with lemon curd. The time has come to learn how to make some version of it.

I don’t know what the more authentic filling for this tart should be: baked custard-based or just lemon curd; this Guardian How to gives a detailed comparison. I choose custard.

I used Mary Berry’s recipe; it is fairly simple but takes a while: make the pastry*, chill it, roll it out, chill it, blind bake it, dry it, cool it, fill it and bake it! The only adaptions I made were using a little less sugar and adding an extra lemon to take it up another notch.

This recipe makes a lovely thin crust. So thin in fact that there was a moment when I feared the pastry wasn’t going to make it all the way over the tin, but it did (with a few dodgy patch jobs). As you can see, the pastry shrinks during the blind baking, so I should have cut off the excess pastry after the blind baking and not before. There are also air bubbles in the pastry case which I’m not sure how to avoid; perhaps heavier beans are needed for the blind baking.

Apart from a minor leak, the tart came out well: the buttery shell is the perfect match for the still-wobbly sharp custard inside; although a full pate sucrée pastry may be even better. I also plan to try this David Lebovitz lemon curd-based version.

* The pastry in the recipe has only one egg and 25g sugar for 175g flour, whereas pate sucrée has roughly three times the egg and sugar content.

Dāl Bhat

Country of origin: India


This is a delicious, comforting dish, eaten with steaming Basmati rice. The name literally means cooked and flavoured pulses (dāl) and rice (bhat). It’s a pretty staple Gujarati dish that comes in many variations.

In this version dried pigeon peas – which are the base of the dāl – are cooked and then blitzed with tomato, ginger, chilli and lemon juice, and then this mixture is cooked again, adding further flavour.

This isn’t a hard and fast recipe, but for roughly two servings the ingredients are:

1 cup of dried toor dāl (pigeon peas), washed thoroughly

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste (I used bottled, so adjust quantity to taste if using fresh)

1/2 tablespoon sugar, to taste

1/2 teaspoon ginger, finely chopped

Chopped green chilli, to taste (I used about half a teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Pinch of mustard seeds

Pinch of fenugreek seeds

Three of four dried curry leaves

1/2 a can of tomatoes, blitzed

2 cups Basmati rice, cooked

1. Cook the dāl: Start by thoroughly rinsing the dāl. It then needs to be pressure cooked on a medium heat with 3 cups water for about 15 minutes until it looks pulpy and tastes cooked (alternatively, I think soaking dried dāl overnight and then boiling for a few hours until soft and cooked works too, but not tried and tested).

2. Add flavour: Remove the pressure cooker from the heat and add in the blitzed tomato, lemon juice, sugar, chilli, ginger, tumeric and salt, and whiz with a stick blender. It’s much easier to add about half the lemon juice, sugar, chilli and salt, and then add more to taste as you blitz it all together (I’ve found that you can’t really taste the chilli at this stage, so go easy, the intensity seems to come out after stage three below). The dull yellow cooked pigeon peas will now be transformed into a beautiful and fragrant orange.

3. The vaghaar/chaunk (tempering) stage: In a different pan, add about a tablespoon of oil, the mustard and fenugreek seeds and the curry leaves on a medium heat. When the seeds start sizzling and releasing their aroma add the cooked dāl mixture, stir well and let simmer on a low heat for ten minutes. Serve with hot rice and if you like, a dollop of yoghurt. It freezes well and doubles up as a delicious spicy soup without the rice.

Something I would like to try next is using fresh tomatoes instead of canned, which I think would give the dish a more delicate flavour.

Hot Cross Buns

Country of origin: England?

I was meant to make Hot Cross Buns in time for Easter but missed the boat. However, I refuse to wait until next Good Friday to try these (In Elizabethan times, this may have gotten me in a lot of trouble!). In England these are sold year-round and I think therefore a little unappreciated. They are first cousins of the equally delicious teacake which is also served split, toasted and buttered.

There are many recipes around for these buns, some with really short proofing times for the yeast (Delia Smith’s recipe) and at the other end of the scale, 12 hours. My quest for the perfect Hot Cross Bun recipe is not over, but this was a fair start. Simon Rimmer’s recipe starts with strong white bread flour being combined with other dry ingredients such as spices and dried fruit. Butter and milk are then heated, an egg is whisked in and this liquid is poured onto the dry ingredients. Once the dough is kneaded there’s the 12-hour wait, after which you can pipe on the crosses as below (warning: the flour, sugar and water mixture is very gloopy).

The buns are then baked for about 20 minutes and then brushed with a warm glaze. I used apricot jam rather than marmalade for a bit of extra sharpness. Although these buns cooked well, and look the part, they just weren’t sweet enough for me; perhaps more raisins and/or sugar would do the job.


Country of origin: France

I have not read In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust, but by making madeleines, I must be a little closer. These are scrumptious little cakes, light but buttery with a hint of citrus. They are perfect with a cup of tea, but would be equally at home as an accompaniment to something like Lemon Posset.

The recipe is from an excellent book, Tea and Crumpets by Margaret Johnson, great for all things afternoon tea.

Eggs and sugar are beaten together until fluffy, after which flour, salt and baking powder (and if using, ground almonds) are added and the mixture beaten again. The final step is stirring in melted butter and any flavourings (I used lemon zest). The batter needs to rest in the fridge for about three hours, for the flour to hydrate. The madeleine tin needs to be brushed with melted butter, and then generously dusted with flour. Bake for about 20 minutes, taking care not to let them burn and voila!

This post David Lebovitz has lots of useful tips for madeleine success e.g. freezing the molds beforehand and not spreading the batter once in the molds.


Country of origin: Ottoman Empire?


Having eaten more than my fair share of these so-sweet-you’ll-need-to-see-your-dentist nutty pastries of Filo/Phyllo drenched in sugary rose syrup, I decided it was time to eat more. This is not for the faint-hearted: there is an obscene amount of  sugar and butter involved, but you only have a few small pieces at a time…

The recipe called for 18 sheets of Filo/Phyllo pastry which is pretty fragile stuff. It needs to be kept covered and used quickly before it dries out, due to the lack of fat.

Making this dish is lots of fun as it’s all about brushing layer upon layer of pastry with melted butter, throwing in chopped pistachios (and/or walnuts) with sugar and ground cardamon midway and then layering with yet more buttered pastry. Next, it needs to be lightly scored and baked for about 50 minutes. Meanwhile, you can make the syrup: sugar, water, flavoring (I used rose water) and lemon juice. Once the baklava is out of the oven, pour over the syrup and cool before cutting.