Monday, 31 December 2012

Brandy Butter Cookies

Every year after Christmas I discover a tub of brandy butter lurking in the back of my fridge.  And every year I end up throwing it out, as it has gone rancid.  This year I left the bowl out to remind myself to think of something to do with it.  Then on Twitter last night several people mentioned that they too end up throwing their brandy butter away.

I started thinking about recipes and Googled a few including brandy snaps but being a lazy cook they didn't appeal.  Then I saw a recipe for brandy butter cookies.  When I woke next morning someone had actually tweeted me the same idea.  But I was ahead and had already bookmarked a recipe.

I have probably mentioned that I never follow a recipe verbatim. I always feel I have to make it mine and change something.  So here is my take on the recipe I found.

Brandy butter is usually a 50:50 mix of butter and icing sugar so weigh how much you have left over.

Brandy Butter Cookie Recipe

200g butter in total (so if you have a 100g of brandy butter use 150g of plain butter and add to your brandy butter)
180g golden granulated sugar (or 130g minus your 100g of leftover brandy butter consisting of 50g icing sugar)
2 large eggs
250g plain flour
35g dried cranberries
50g dark chocolate pieces or drops

Beat your butter and sugar and brandy butter together.  Add in eggs one by one and continue to beat.  Sieve in flour and stir into mixture.  Add cranberries and your chocolate.

Cut a large square of greaseproof paper and spoon the cookie mixture out onto it.

Roll up dough in the greaseproof like a Christmas cracker and twist the edges as in picture.  Refrigerate until it has hardened.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C and line a baking tray and grease.  Slice the dough to your preferred thickness and place on the baking sheet.  Bake in oven for about 10 minutes or until golden.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.

I used ordinary dark chocolate which burnt slightly so it would be better to use chocolate drops.  There was very little taste of brandy so if you prefer a kick then add some and increase the quantity of flour if necessary. 

Mix yielded 2 dozen cookies.

Irish Food  Brandy butter Brandy Butter Cookies  Christmas Recipes 

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Bûche de Noël

Bûche de Noël is traditionally made in France for Christmas.  When I managed a French artisan bakery it was Christophe's specialty and he used to make three flavours, chocolate, coffee and a white chocolate and raspberry.  Hotels and restaurants loved to order them for a centre piece.

I have to be honest and admit I had never made one until now but I used to watch Christophe making them. 

Chocolate Bûche de Noël

The first thing to make is the crème au beurre or buttercream.

Crème au beurre
125g butter (unsalted)
1 egg and 1 egg yolk (reserve the white)
87g sugar
25g water
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of rum

Soften and whisk the butter in one bowl.  In another bowl whisk the eggs and stand aside.
Measure out the sugar and water accurately and place in a small pan with a sugar thermometer. Dissolve the sugar and then heat until you reach 121 degrees C.  If you are using a heavy based Le Creuset pan for example remove from heat when you hit 120 degrees as the temperature will continue to rise.  Cool to 110 degrees.  Continue to whisk the eggs adding the cooled sugar syrup in a steady stream.  Continue whisking for another few minutes.  Add this mixture to your whipped butter.  Add in cocoa powder and rum and place in fridge to stiffen up.

For the sponge

4 eggs and the reserved egg white
140g sugar
100g flour
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Line a swiss roll tin with baking parchment and grease it with a knob of melted butter. Mine was 36 x 25cm or 14 x 10 inches but you can use a bigger one to get a thinner sponge which makes rolling it easier. 

Pre-heat your oven to 170 deg C or 160 if fan assisted.

Put the eggs and sugar in a bowl and place over a saucepan of water.  Put the heat on under the pan and bring to a gentle simmer all the time whisking the eggs and sugar.  When it turns thick and creamy and you can write on the mixture with your whisk and it remains visible for a few seconds it is done. 

Sieve in your flour and cocoa powder and gently fold in with a metal spoon.  Pour the mixture into the tin and tilt the tin to move the mixture into the corners. 

Place on the bottom shelf in the oven and bake until it springs back to a gentle touch for 25-35 minutes.  Place a damp tea towel on a board and slide the sponge out of the tin onto it.  Cover with a dry tea towel and leave to cool.

When it is cool spread the buttercream gently all over it with a pallet knife or a spatula.  Cut a line about 1cm in along the shorter side and fold this over and start to roll from here using the greaseproof paper to guide it into a tight roll. 

Set aside and prepare your ganache to cover the log.

250g dark chocolate or half and half dark and milk if you don't like it too bitter
100ml cream

Break up the chocolate pieces into the cream in a heavy based pan and put on a gentle heat until the chocolate starts to melt. Stir until it all melts and then set aside to cool. This ganache sets very hard so keep an eye on it.  When it is the right consistency to spread cover the sponge and make marks in it to resemble a log.  Decorate and serve.

For the coffee flavour replace the cocoa powder with 2 teaspoons of coffee liquid extract.  For the white chocolate add 75g of melted white chocolate to the buttercream and make a white chocolate ganache as above to cover.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Her Shell

The day came I was dreading and to be honest I didn't know if I could go through with it. Sausage the pig had reached weight far quicker than I had anticipated.  The decision was made, the help organised, the abattoir arranged and the butcher lined up.

This is what I had traipsed up and down the lane for; everyday, in wind and rain and that was just the summer; to feed her.  She had been fed the best - rolled barley, fruit and vegetables and potatoes.  She had had fresh air, space to run and root and a lovely big deep bed of straw to sleep in when it was cold or wet.  She had a better life than the vast majority of pigs on the planet.

I had the help of a neighbouring farmer and a friend who is also a farmer. Neither had any experience of pigs, just cattle and sheep.  They assured me we would load her easily. In the end we did, but I think they were surprised at her strength when she knocked the gate out of their hands they were holding onto, to block her escape.  The trailer was pushed into the shed beside her sister and she was left overnight to calm down.

The next day I followed the trailer in my car. I felt as if I was part of a funeral procession.  In a way I was.

The abattoir is a small one and he had almost finished a consignment of pigs when we arrived.  The smell was all embracing - it seemed to settle in a gelatinous layer on me.   The screams of the pigs were blood curdling and I glanced at Sausage who had shrunk down into the corner of the trailer, fear in her eyes. 

She was unloaded and pushed into the shoot.

I was heartbroken.

I drove home and decided to go and pick up the other pig immediately to get the experience out of my mind.

Little pig is a an eight week old male Saddleback.  He has settled in now, but initially he wouldn't eat as he was scared of a bucket.

Rasher getting to know little pig

Next day I went back to the abattoir to collect the carcass and take it to the butcher.  To my surprise I didn't feel anything. What was carried out was her shell, Sausage was gone.  The relief was enormous and I know now I will have no difficulty eating her.

Everyone said to me it will get easier but I hope it never does.  It should be difficult.

The reality of living as a small holder.