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Wednesday 28 November 2012

Treacle Tarts from 'The British Larder' - A review

Mini Treacle Tarts

The British Larder, A Cookbook for all Seasons

By Madalene Bonvini-Hamel

When this weighty tome thumped through my letter box (actually, it wouldn’t go through my letterbox, the postie delivered it right into my hands) I was somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer size and weight of the book. 

I read a little about the author: “Professional chef Madalene has worked at some of the country’s finest restaurants, from Aubergine (as part of Gordon Ramsay’s brigade) and Claridges, and under Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche…” blimey, this is a serious chef, how on earth am I going to make anything from a book by such a high powered chef?

However, reading on I found that Madalene and her partner Ross Pike had created a website to show off their love of seasonal produce, this led to them opening their Award winning Pub, The British Larder in Suffolk.  This gave me a little courage to think that perhaps there might be some recipes which suited my home cooking style.

The book starts with information about The British Larder and the author.  There are then some pages of notes on suppliers, ingredients and some basic recipes. The book is then divided into chapters by month,  with each month starting with a practical and beautifully written  essay on the foods available in that month.  Read carefully as there are some little gems of recipes hidden amongst the prose.  The book is also generously illustrated with stunning photographs taken my Madalane herself (RESPECT!)

Here is a taster of some of the recipes from each month:

Pan Roasted Cod with Jerusalem Artichokes, Venison Burgers with Roasted Parsnip Straws and Beetroot and Red Onion Relish. Braised Beef Ribs with January King Cabbage and Carrot Crush, Poppy Seed and Blood Orange Loaf Cake
Mussels with Smoky Bacon, Cider and Horseradish, Cauliflower and Shallot Piccalilli, Rhubarb Melting Moments (I can’t begin to describe how fantastic these look!)
Buckler Leaf Sorrel and Spinach Soup, Slow Cooked Duck Legs with Pickled Rhubarb, My Famous Treacle Tart
Smoked Bacon, Binham Blue and Wild Garlic Breakfast Muffins, Crispy Quack Eggs with Radish Mayonnaise, Cardamom and Golden Sultana Hot Cross Buns
Homemade Elderflower Cordial, Pan Seared Wood pigeon with English Asparagus and Broad Bean and Wild Mint Hummus, Chocolate and Fresh Mint Parfaits
Roasted Aubergine Soup with Dry-Roasted Almonds, Garden Herb-marinated Half Roast Chicken with Kohlrabi, Fennel and Peanut Slaw, Chocolate Fudge Cakes with Cherries in Red Wine
Beetroot Tarte Tatins with Frozen Broad Bean Crème Fraiche, Courgette –Wrapped Chicken Skewers, Gooseberry Curd and Brown Sugar Meringue Mess with Garibaldi Biscuits
Borlotti Bean and Courgette Hummus, Mustard Seed-smoked Beef with Soft-boiled Duck Eggs and Toasted Cobnuts, Victoria Plum and Blackberry Frozen Ice Cream Slices
Oven Roasted Acorn Squash with Salt-baked Beetroots and Rosehip and Elderberry Vinaigrette, Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Crab Apple  Jelly and Caramelised Damsons, Hedgerow Fruit Pastilles (yes, pastilles as in ‘sweets’).
Red Wine-poached Quinces and Goats Cheese Open Filo Tarts with Salted Caramel Walnuts, Pot Roasted Mallard with Cider Apples and Celeriac Mash, Apple Snow  with Warm Honey Madeleines.
Pulled Pork and Pumpkin Pies, Pheasant Ravioli with Chestnut Sauce, Pear Parfait with Liquorice Jelly and Spice-poached Pears
Sage, Prune and Armagnac-stuffed Turkey Breast with Prune Sauce,  Beef and Oyster Pie, Chocolate and Cranberry Salami.

Who is it for?
I got a copy of the Readers Digest Cookery Year when I was in my early twenties, I learned a lot about seasonal cooking and eating from that book.  It was also a great reference and source of techniques.  I think The British Larder could act in the same way for a cook who is keen to learn and would like to create ambitious dishes.  It is also good for those of us who would like a reminder and some fresh inspiration to cook seasonally.

I noticed there are quite a few ‘game’ recipes in this book.  Probably more than I have seen in a cookery book that is not devoted to game.  So if you like to cook and eat game you will find lots of inspiration and interesting recipes for venison, partridge, pheasant, woodcock and rabbit. 

The kind of cookbooks I really enjoy are the ones where the personality of the author comes through.  In The British Larder there is an introductory paragraph or two about every recipe, and it is here that Madalene really hooked me in.  Here is excerpt from one of the introductions:

“I find that a glass of wine, a chair, a chopping board and a sharp knife do the trick and, of course, if you have a friend to gossip with even better, the time passes quickly and before you know it, the beans are prepared and all that is left to do is the cooking” (Sweet and Sour Pickled Green Beans)

I loved the dessert recipes, although Madalene claims not to be much of a pastry chef, the flavour combinations would certainly suit my taste.  Preserves, cordials, pickles and chutneys also feature in many of the chapters with inspiring flavour combinations.

There are quite a few inspired vegetarian dishes, but they are heavily outweighed by meat/fish/poultry recipes, so I wouldn’t recommend The British Larder for vegetarian or vegan cooks.

Ease of use
The recipes are well written and comprehensive; many of them feature useful ‘Cooks Notes’ with substitutions or additional ideas relating to the recipe.

I would have liked to make one of the imaginative and ambitious dishes that I've described, but in the end I decided to choose a classic to show you just how detailed and well written these recipes are, to the extent that I felt very comfortable adapting the ingredients to make some mini tarts.

My Famous Treacle Tart

100g day-old sourdough bread, crusts removed (weight given is for crustless bread)
1 egg
125ml double cream
300g golden syrup
40g clear honey
finely grated zest and juice of 1 small lemon
60g ground almonds
300g Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (see below)

The breadcrumb mixture is prepared then chilled overnight in the fridge, so you will need to start this recipe a day in advance (See Cook's Notes)
Whizz the sourdough bread in a food processor to make fine breadcrumbs.  Set aside. Whisk the egg and cream together in a small saucepan, just enough to make them runnier and easier to mix.  Remove from the heat.  Whisk the warmed golden syrup and honey and lemon zest and juice into the egg mixture, then stir in the ground almonds and breadcrumbs.  Dover and leave the mixture to rest in the fridge overnight.

The following day, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to about 2mm thickness and use it to line a (loose-bottomed, if you like) 35 x 10 x 2.5cm fluted oblong flan tin (leaving a slight overhang of pastry). Leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 160C/Gas Mark 3.
Whisk the chilled breadcrumb mixture and pour it into the chilled pastry case.  Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until lightly set and golden - the tart will still have a  gentle wobble in the centre but his will firm up once cooled.

Remove from the oven to a wire rack and leave the tart to cool completely in the tin.  Once cold, trim the overhanging pastry from the top edges of the tart with a small serrated knife, then carefully remove the tart from the tin and cut it into slices.  Serve with whipped Chantilly cream, creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

Cooks Notes
I recommend using an oblong fluted flan tin instead of a round one for this recipe , so that the tart cooks more evenly and is easier to cut and handle.  

Use fresh bread that is a day old, cut the crusts off and the inside of the load only.  Can can use regular white bread for the recipe, but I prefer sourdough as it gives the tart that extra special taste. Do not use dried breadcrumbs.

Be patient when making this tart and follow the recipe - leave the breadcrumb mixture to rest overnight in the fridge, do not overcook the tart, and leave it to cool completely before cutting and eating.

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry (makes about 600g) I used half of this to make a dozen mini Treacle Tarts
175g unsalted butter, softened
75g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split in half length ways and seeds scraped out (optional)
a pinch of table salt
2 eggs, beaten
300g plain flour

Put the butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, if using, and the salt into the bowl of an electric stand mixer and beat together until fluffy and pale in colour.  Slowly add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift the flour over the creamed mixture, then slowly mix in the flour until the pastry comes together, being careful not to over mix.  (If you prefer, the pastry can be made by hand without a mixer, using a wooden spoon to beat and combine the ingredients, as directed.)

Turn the pastry on to a lightly floured work surface, but do not knead the pastry, just push it together.  This recipe makes about 600g pastry and you can either use it all or freeze some to use at a later date.  It's unwise to make this recipe in a smaller quantity and you can easily freeze half of it (or as much as you have leftover) to use another time

Wrap the pastry in cling film (either wrap it as one piece, or divide it into tow pieces and wrap each piece separately) and then leave it to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before rolling out. (I like to shape the pastry into flat even square (s) so that they fit comfortably into my fridge or freezer.) Freeze the pastry you are not using an use within 3 months.  Defrost overnight in the fridge before use.

For the dozen mini treacle tarts,  I used about 300g of pastry, 50g breadcrumbs, half an egg, 60g double cream, 15og golden syrup, 1/2 a lemon and 30g of ground almonds. 

Recipe Review:  Lots of people seem not to like dried fruit, so I made these as an alternative to mince pies and they worked very well.  I was a little disappointed with the vanilla seeds in the pastry as I didn't feel that there was a real hit of vanilla, so would boost it with vanilla sugar. Great idea though.  The pastry is very soft even after a night in the fridge and not particularly easy to work with, I think I prefer my standard recipe but might try adding vanilla.  The Treacle Tart mixture is a real triumph, easy to make and tastes very good indeed.

The Verdict
This is an expensive book, even with on line discount prices, but I think it is good value for money and likely to become a new classic for British cooks, chefs and foodies.

Absolute Press (An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing)
RRP £30
Online Price £19.20

I was provided with a copy of The British Larder by Absolute Press/Bloomsbury Publishing, I was not required to write a positive review and my opinions are my own.

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At 28 November 2012 at 22:16 , Blogger underthebluegumtree said...

Yay! So glad to find this review. I am a big fan of The British Larder website and was in two minds whether to splash out on the book 'cos I have so many recipe books. But seeing your review has convinced me that there is room on my shelf for another :-)

At 28 November 2012 at 22:27 , Blogger Janice said...

Glad the review was helpful to you, it's a great read!

At 29 November 2012 at 11:29 , Blogger Scott at Real Epicurean said...

These sound really, really delicious. I'm a golden syrup fan so love any recipe which highlights it.

At 30 November 2012 at 16:48 , Blogger Choclette said...

Thanks for the review Janice. I love the website, which hardly features any meat on it, so it was a bit disappointing to find the book is heavily weighted in that direction.

At 30 November 2012 at 20:48 , Blogger Karen S Booth said...

What a great and VERY concise review Janice, and I DO love the British Larder website, so, it's interested to see your review about the book. Karen

At 2 December 2012 at 19:38 , Blogger Chris Half said...

A book divided into sections according to what is available during the month, that sounds very good.

At 3 December 2012 at 22:55 , Anonymous Urvashi said...

am loving the choco and cranberry salami idea


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