Leek and Potato Soup

The thing I like most about autumn is that after a summer of salads and light meals I get to cook with earthy ingredients again. Today I wanted something quick and simple and with a bag of Maris Piper potatoes and two sad looking leeks in the fridge, I decided to cook what is to me the mother of all British soup, leek & potato.

The ingredients are few and simple… (serves two, but easily adjusted to feed more people)

1 small white onion
a knob of butter or a glug of olive oil (or a mix of both)
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
3-4 medium (about fist-sized) Maris Piper potatoes (but any variety suitable for mashing will do)
2 leeks
chicken or vegetable stock to cover, about 500 ml
a small bunch of parsley (optional)
a spoonfull of cider or balsamic vinegar (optional)

Roughly chop the onion. Heat the butter, throw in the onion and sugar and fry on a low heat until soft and translucent, about 6-7 minutes. In the meantime, peel the potatoes (if you prefer, leave them un-peeled but make sure you scrub them thoroughly) and cut into 2 cm chunks. Cut the ends and most of the green off the leeks, slice in half, wash thoroughly and cut  into 1 cm slices.
Add the leeks to the onions, fry for a few minutes, then add the potatoes. Cover with the stock in excess of a centimeter or two. I used homemade chicken stock from a roast my flatmates had made the night before, and it really enhanced the flavour of the soup but any good quality stock cube will work just as well. The boyfriend doesn’t like green bits in his soup but I really like herbs, so I throw in a bunch of parsley and boil it with the stock. Then I take it out before I puree the soup.
Cover the saucepan with a lid and boil on a low heat for about 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are done.

Mash with a potato masher until fairly smooth. You could also blitz this soup in a blender but I personally prefer my soups to have a bit of texture, which is why I mash by hand. Season with salt and freshly milled pepper. If you want a bit of zing, stir in a teaspoon or two of vinegar. Ladle into bowls and serve with a few chopped cornichons on top.

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Sticky cinnamon buns.

photo

Blessed with parents who work in the aviation industry, I travelled a lot as a child and to very exotic places. While my school friends vacationed in Italy or Croatia or Carynthia (go on, look it up!), we spent our summer and winter holidays in Hawaii, Mauritius or the Bahamas, where we stayed on an island so small that golf carts were  the only means of transportation. Every morning, my sister and I would walk to the bakery, a cotton candy coloured shack amidst a row of cotton candy coloured houses, and pick up a bag of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. They were, and still are, the best cinnamon rolls I have ever eaten. Soft and doughy, and sticky with cinnamon and sugar syrup. Oh the stickyness! Glorious! Even the Swedish version is pale by comparison.

Last year I came across a recipe for cinnamon buns, I think it was in the aftermath of The Great British Bake-Off. They sounded sticky, but turned out to be just too much like Danish pastries, very flaky, a bit dry and not exactly cinnamony, but the recipe was a good starting point and so I kept tweaking and researching and finally – success! Sticky, soft, doughy cinnamon buns. They are quite a lot of work and not exactly ‘fuss free’ to make, but well worth the effort. Just don’t eat them in bed, because these buns really are sticky as hell!

For the dough:
250ml whole milk
50g unsalted butter
500g strong white breadflour
30g caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
a sachet of fast acting dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten

For the bun filling:
150g light soft brown sugar
mixed with
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
60g unsalted butter, softened, for spreading

For the sticky topping:
165g light soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup diced fresh figs
pinch of salt

To make the dough, melt the butter in the milk over a low heat, and once it is melted, let the mixture cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt and sugar, and yeast (check the instructions on the sachet, some kinds of yeast need to be dissolved in warm water first). Add the milk mixture and the beaten egg, and knead everything together in the bowl until you have a soft dough. To get the gluten going, knead the dough for about 10 (loooong) minutes on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic. Form a giant dough ball and let rise in a bowl covered with a clean tea towel until it has doubled in size, about one hour.

Next, make the topping by combining milk, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer, take off the heat, stir in the roughly chopped figs and set aside.

Roll out the dough to about 40x50cm and spread with the very soft unsalted butter. Sprinkle over the sugar-cinnamon mix. Starting from the long end, tightly roll the cinnamon sprinkled dough into a roulade, trim the ends and cut into 12 1.5cm thick pieces. Put the rolls in a greased 25x30cm baking tin with the cut side up. Spoon half of the fig topping over the rolls. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in size, circa 45 minutes (I told you, not exactly fuss free).

Preheat oven to fan 180°C and bake rolls for about 30 minutes. Cover with tin foil for the last ten minutes. Drizzle the remaining fig topping over the slightly cooled buns. Serve warm with a cup of strong coffee, just like the Swedes do.

A New Yorkish cheesecake.

Years and years ago, when I was still working as a research scientist, my boss made a New York Cheesecake. I can’t remember the occasion, just that I was somewhat surprised to learn that she could bake ( I know, I know. A woman can either be a great  housewife or a great career woman, never both. Well, I learned my lesson that day.)  The cheesecake was, for lack of a better word, perfect. Creamy, firm, with a high crust and dotted with poppy seeds, and unsurpassed for almost a decade. It was only when I met the boyfriend, who is an avid cheesecake lover, that I decided to give the cheesecake-baking thing another go. After a lot of umm-ing and aaah-ing and a few test runs, I have now firmly settled on my own – smaller – version of a New York Cheesecake recipe by Deb from the Smitten Kitchen (who in turn adapted it from Gourmet Magazine). It’s almost foolproof – I can’t bake and I can bake this cake – and very, very tasty.

For the very tall crust:

220g digestive biscuits or Graham crackers
110g unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or a little less table salt)

For the cheesecake filling:

3x 220g packages of cream cheese (I use the cheapest)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
3 medium eggs
2 medium egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1 packet of vanilla sugar)
1 teaspoon each of grated lemon & orange zest (optional)

For the crust, blitz the biscuits until they resemble semolina or fine breadcrumbs. Stir in sugar and salt, then melt and add the butter to the biscuit mixture. Press the crust ingredients onto the bottom and sides of a buttered springform pan to form a 0.5 cm thick crust (maybe a bit thicker on the bottom), stopping about half a centimeter below the rim. I use a super old fashioned (and fiddly) round cake tin, which has a diameter of about 12 cm, but any smallish springform pan is fine really. Basically, the smaller the form, the taller the cake. You’ll probably find that you won’t use all of the biscuit mix, but I find that it’s better to have too much of it than too litte. Nothing more annoying than having to blitz another 3 digestives to patch some holes in the crust.  Pop the whole thing in the freezer until your cheesecake filling is ready.

Preheat the oven to fan 250°C (yes, that’s right).

For the filling, beat together the cream cheese, flour, sugar and citrus zest. Once you have a homogenous mass, add the vanilla and then the eggs and egg yolks one at a time whilst beating on low speed. In between adding each egg scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to prevent cheese cake streaks in the cake. The filling should be quite light and fluffy, but don’t beat for more than a few minutes. Over-mixing can cause the filling to crack.

Put the springform crust into a shallow baking pan to catch drips. Pour the filling into the crust (the springform pan will be full to the brim). My oven gets very hot at the top so to prevent the cake from browning too quickly I cover it with tinfoil for the first bit of the baking.

Put tinfoil covered cake in the oven and bake at high heat until it has ‘puffed up’, no longer than 10-12 minutes. Do keep an eye on it, if it gets very brown very quickly turn down the heat. Once the cake has puffed up turn down the heat to 100°C and bake until the filling is only slightly wobbly in the middle. This will take 40 minutes to an hour. Let the cake cool before taking out of the springform pan. Chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours (no need to bring to room temperature before serving!).

This masterpiece tastes perfectly marvellous without any fruity adornments, however, if you want to add a topping for some extra-specialness… Bring to the boil 250g cherries (fresh or frozen, sweet or sour) in 1/2 cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar and juice of 1/2 a lemon. Once this is boiling, mix 1 tablespoon corn starch with 1-2 tablespoons of the hot cherry liquid and stir this back into the cherry filling mixture. Cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened, then take off the heat and let cool. Spread topping over the chilled cheesecake, hey presto.