Tuesday, 28 February 2012


Snow man and woman in Clissold Park but it looks like this was the first and last of Winter. Come on spring!

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Winter snow

Three weeks ago we were hit by a cold snap that brought the first snow for this year. I have almost forgotten how much I like the different appearance of the seasons. When the city is covered with a blanket of white fluffy snow like icing sugar on a cake it suddenly gets very quiet. It makes everything more beautiful too. This year I have been reminded by my new colleague from New Zealand that I should not take it for granted. This first snow this year was her first snow ever. So I will remember the fascination from when we were kids. Going out to build a snowman, go sledging and throwing snowballs at each other. The laughter, the ice cold and blue frozen hands, damp socks, runny noses, the sound when you walk on it and the taste of snow.

These photos were taken in Niagara Falls, Canada and it is such a magical place in Winter when the moisture in the air freezes over on the lamp posts and trees to create fantastical shapes.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Apple frangipane tartlets

I have made a frangipane tart before but much earlier in the season when I could get fresh plums. This time I used apples and made small individual tartlets. I also tried different ways to decorate.
I also include a recipe for the shortcrust pastry I used this time. It's light and crumbly and not overly sweet. Shortcrust is always 2:1 flour to butter ratio and some water, just enough to activate the gluten and bind the dough. My other tips are to be gentle with the mixture so you don't overwork the butter as the dough will be too greasy and won't bind the water. And resting time is key. Leave the dough for half an hour and make a cup of tea. If you're pressed for time just leave out this step and blind bake store bought sweet pastry or shortcrust. Another brilliant tip I picked up recently in Heston Blumenthal's new TV show 'Heston at Home' is to use coins instead of baking beans for blind baking. As they are metal they store heat much better and the pastry is being baked more evenly. But now on to the recipe. This recipe makes 8-10 tartlets.


for the pastry base
300g plain flour
150g butter
50g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
3-4 Tbs ice cold water

for the filling
150g ground almond
150g butter
150g caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla sugar
pinch of salt
50g flour
2 eggs
4-6 tbsp amaretto
3-5 apples

To make the shortcrust place the flour, salt and sifted icing sugar in a large bowl. Cut the butter in small cubes (should be room temperature), add to the bowl and cover with the flour. incorporate by using your fingertips and rubbing lightly until you get to fine crumb stage. Incorporate a table spoon of the cold water at a time to see how much the flour can absorb. Add more if needed. Mix well until it leaves the sides of the bowl clean but be careful not to overwork it. Cover with foil and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 175°C. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until 2mm thick. Line the baking tins and place in the freezer for a couple of minutes. This will prevent shrinkage later. Cover with baking paper and coins and blind bake for about 7-10 minutes.
Remove the coins and baking paper and let cool a bit while preparing the frangipane mixture. With a hand mixer beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Add the sugar, salt, ground almond and flour until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time and the amaretto. Spread the frangipane on the pastry shells. Cut the apples in slices and arrange on the mixture. Bake for about 12-15 minutes or until done and slightly golden. When cold dust with icing sugar.