Chicken Biriyani

SpicesComplete biriyani 2

Spiced chicken in an onion-enriched tomato sauce on a bed of fluffy rice. Chicken biriyani – it has all the components of comfort food, but it’s a little bit special, with all those fragrant spices: cinnamon, saffron, cardamon and cloves. It certainly doesn’t have to be chicken,  you can use prawns, fish, vegetables, cubes of toasted paneer or lamb instead. The toppings also vary wildly, I’ve seen french fries, fried onions, toasted cashew nuts and boiled eggs cut in half. The chicken is cooked in an onion-based sauce and the rice is partially cooked separately. Then the two are layered together in a dish and cooked again in the oven for the flavours to meld and come together. It is a fairly long-winded process, but so worth it.

Ingredients

Chicken:

2 large onions/3 medium

2 sticks of cinnamon

4 cardamon pods

6 cloves

1 chicken, boned and cut into pieces

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

1 can of tomatoes, blitzed

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground corriander powder

1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric

powdered and fresh chilli, to taste

salt, to taste

Rice:

2 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked for half an hour

Cucumber raita:

250g yoghurt

1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped

Salt and cumin powder to taste

Chicken:

Using a food processor, chop the onions until they are about the size of a kernel of sweetcorn. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil to a large pan and add the chopped onions, along with the cardamon, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Fry these on a low/medium heat for about 30-40 minutes, it’s a long time, but as they are cooking, you can get on with cooking the rice. Stir constantly, and you should end up with lovely caramelised onions that are almost dark brown.

Once the onions are done, add the tomatoes, ginger, garlic and all the spices, remembering to taste (and an optional step: blitz this whole mixture with a stick blender, if you want a smoother sauce). Then put the heat back on to low/medium and pop in the raw chicken. Cover and cook for about twenty minute-half an hour, or until the chicken is completely cooked through.

Rice:

Put a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large pan, on a medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the cumin seeds and fry for a few minutes. Add the washed rice and fry (like you would for risotto) for five minutes, and then add water from a recently boiled kettle, until the rice is just covered. Once that water is almost evaporated, lower the heat, add more water from the kettle to just cover the rice, and cook covered on a low heat. Check every few minutes and add water if needed. The rice needs to be just undercooked (75% cooked through), as the whole dish will cook again the oven.

Once the rice is done, assemble the dish. In an oven-proof dish add a layer of rice, using a third of what you have. Then add a layer of chicken in sauce, more rice, chicken again and then rice. If using saffron, soak a few strands in water for a few minutes and then sprinkle over the dish. Also, if using toasted cashews and deep-fried onions, add now. Put in the oven (300 F/150 C) and cook for half an hour.

Serve with raita or plain yoghurt.

Raita

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Galette des Rois

Finished galette second

Country of origin: France

This delicious almondy King Cake is made to celebrate the Epiphany, and the Three Kings around January 6th every year.  Never having grown up with this tradition,  I think it’s a lovely post-Christmas luxury: puff pastry, almonds, pastry cream… The galette is traditionally circular and is a disc of puff pastry, filled with almond cream or frangipane (almond cream with pastry cream), sealed with another disc, egg-washed and then decorated by scoring with a knife.  A very useful blog post about making your own is Chocolate and Zucchini’s post on making your own Galette des Rois.

Attempt one was rather a disaster, as I was in rush – never a good idea when baking – and number two the ready-made puff pasty I bought had torn, so I made the silly decision to fold it over itself and roll it out again (I should have just kept rolling and patched up the rip I think). As a result, the pastry didn’t rise as much as it should have and it tore during baking. It still tasted good though, if a little rich – I had filled it with almond cream alone.

I thought I’d have another go on a lazy Sunday morning, and whilst I still haven’t managed to muster the courage to make my own puff pastry, I tried the galette again, with mixed results. I used this recipe, but diluted the almond filling with one batch of pastry cream from this book. The pastry still cracked in the oven, but the taste of the filling was much better. The frangipane filling was divine(!). By the second slice, I had to add  a handful of berries to cut through all that sweetness, which made me think of making a Galette des Rois with a fruit puree layer…for next year.

Almond cream and pastry cream

Raw galette

Anyway, to be tried again, when my arteries have recovered from all the butter. I will get it round and it will not crack!

Tips:

-Once you’ve rolled your puff pastry out to the required thickness, let it rest for at least 15 minutes, covered, in the fridge, to avoid it shrinking in the oven

– Watch that egg wash, make sure it’s evenly spread and not pooling in places, as they may burn and stop even rising of the pastry

-Practice your design on a piece of paper, to ensure a steady hand

Gingerbread Houses

2011 Gingerbread house

Country of origin: Germany

This is a picture of the first house we made, two years ago. It really is a lot of fun to do, and somehow, easier than normal baking, as you don’t need to worry about the taste at all. I followed Rachel Allen’s recipe.

I would recommend a whole afternoon for this. Before you start, make sure you have a cake board/covered tray ready. Also, get your sweets and decorations, you can use anything! Then make the gingerbread and let it rest in the fridge, roll it out and cut out your shapes. Make a couple of people/trees/animals etc. in case of breakages. Once these have baked and cooled, you can begin decorating. I haven’t attempted this yet, but you could get really fancy and use boiled sweets when baking to make real “glass” windows as well.

The hardest part is the gluing together of the actual house, you’ll need to use snow glue (egg whites and icing sugar) to stick the seams together, and then hold these in places for a while until the glue dries.

I got a cake board, and made snow from some icing and caster/superfine sugar. The house was constructed straight onto the board, easier than lifting it on there! The gingerbread men and women were propped up with toothpicks, not very stable I know. Once you’ve assembled it all, you could put some lights in/around the house.

I’m not sure why, but this Christmas, perhaps after being inspired by the gingerbread creations on The Great British Bakeoff, I decided it had to be different, we had to go to Egypt. No, Egypt isn’t particularly Christmassy, and no… but that’s what it was.

2012 Gingerbread house

I made a few templates on paper of a camel, a man in the desert and for some reason, the Sphinx. The pyramids themselves weren’t too bad, just four triangles, and using a knife, I scored on the pattern of bricks.

Now for the fun part, the decoration. The sand base was digestive biscuits, bashed to oblivion. Then for a reason i still don’t understand, I used sweet Lego bricks and marshmallows to outline the border of the desert.

I iced the figures using water and icing sugar, and as soon as they were finished, in my excitement, I propped them on the board  straightaway. The wet icing of course dripped down, and now it looks like everyone is crying.

I have eleven whole months to plot and plan this year’s gingerbread extravaganza. Ideas? Space? The Deathstar? Under the sea? Here is some inspiration. From the not martha blog:

NOT MARTHA window_candy_alone

From Mightylists, a shoehouse!

MIGHTY LISTS Amazing-Gingerbread-House-Shoe

The kremlin:

Kremlin

Paris: Angelina

Outside Angelinas

Paris: had a few hours on a day trip, meeting a good (fellow-hog) friend, and we want pastries, where do we go? I know David Lebovitz would cringe: I didn’t do my research beforehand, I didn’t find a list of Paris’ top pâtisseries but just went to the one place I’ve been before! Angelina is on Rue Tivoli, a short walk from the Jardin Tuileries; it’s is a little overpriced and squirming with tourists,  but there are some tasty pastries too.

Among other things, Angelina sells danishes, chocolates, macarons and of course, pastries. Since we were only there for a day, we didn’t feel guilty sampling a multitude of products.

First stop: a plain croissant. Top marks, it was fluffy, oh-so-buttery and crisp, delicious.

MacaronsLong macarons

The macarons were a mixed bunch, the chocolate one was heavenly, the right texture and chocolatiness, and the salted caramel yummy and buttery, with a light sprinkling of salt. The coffee macaron was a bit of a disappointment, but perhaps that was just the texture, it was so chewy, it felt like chewing gum, and the coffee flavour was too soft.

Now for the pastries we tried:

Paris-New York: just at the far left of the picture. This was absolutely delicious, like the jazzed-up cousin of a Paris Brest. Light and airy choux, filled with pecan buttercream, with additional crunch and texture from crumbled praline.

Ba Ba: A rum baba, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, I now know that I don’t like rum ba ba. At all.

Mont Thabor: An orange-flavoured dome cake, finished with some kind of spray gun, it was so perfect, and topped with an orange macaron. Sadly, the cake wasn’t amazing, nice orange jelly inside though.

Citron

Mont Blanc: as it should be; avoid if you don’t like chestnut!!

Mont Blanc

Mille feuille: In my panic at having to speak more than five words of French (with the rather stern assistant) I forgot to ask for this one and am still kicking myself…

Mille feuille

Chocolate eclair (no picture): perfect, after having eaten many of these, I know my eclairs from my eclairs and this was good, perfect dry choux, smooth and chocolately pastry cream and a slightly bitter topping. I’m convinced that their topping of real dark chocolate glaze (rather than a flavoured fondant) complements the sweet chocolate pastry cream filling perfectly.

St Honoré: This does look extreme, but the cream is so light and fluffy, you don’t really notice… The caramel on the little choux buns was lovely and crunchy and the pastry cream filling was delicious. I want to make these now!

Saori: a lime cheesecake with strawberry jelly encased in white chocolate. This was such a nice idea, but a little overpowered by the lime. The strawberry marshmallow on top was tasty though.

Honore and Saori

Chocolate tart: (no picture) a deep, velvety chocolate filling, i think ganache in an elegant chocolate sable pastry shell. Full on, but this is the stuff if you’re a chocolate fan.

Verdict: very pretty to look at, and most of the time tastes as good as it looks.

Langham Afternoon Tea

I know it’s greedy, but I want to have Afternoon Tea at as many places as possible. There’s something about the combination of delicate little sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries, washed down with a never-ending supply of tea that is delightful. Bring it back full time I say. It’s certainly a weekend institution for me.

In any case, being back in London, I thought I’d try out the Langham, a hotel near Oxford Circus. The hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas, : the masterpiece being a huge and colourful gingerbread house shown below, covered in all kinds of sweet treats.

Gingerbread house

The Palm Court where tea is served is calm and serene, with some tinkling in the background from the piano. First off was an amuse bouche: an egg noggy custard with a slice of stollen on top, strange, but delicious.

Amuse bouche

Next came the sandwiches, which were really good: a lamb sausage roll, a tiny mushroom tartlet, topped with half a quail’s egg, a turkey sandwich with mustard and mayonnaise, a foie gras dome, covered in a strange gloopy substance, which looked stunning, but didn’t taste great. There was also a prawn sandwich in a little white bun, an egg salad sandwich and a cream cheese and cucumber scone.

Sandwiches

Next came the scones: the plain and raisin scones were a delight to eat, soft, fluffy and buttery, served with clotted cream and jam (don’t skimp please, there’s really no point!). However, there were also some chocolate and orange scones, which I didn’t love.

Scones

The sweet course was just that unfortunately: sweet, sweet and sweet. It looked stunning but unfortunately did not taste as good. There was a glittery gingerbread biscuit with thick fondant icing stuck in a glass of sugar, a white chocolate mini pudding, a chocolate brownie and a peppermint macaron in purple and white. The least worse was a little berry cake which provided some tartness from the berries.

Langham sweets

Langham sweets 5

The service was excellent, with constant offers of more sandwiches, cakes and scones. Overall, the sandwiches were the best course and the sweets were a disappointment; the search for the perfect Afternoon Tea goes on…