Weekend food with Darina Allen

THIS Christmas our present to all our extended family and many of our friends was ‘food from the farm’: a roll of homemade Jersey butter, a jam jar full of thick unctuous yoghurt with a nice layer of cream on top, a chunk of cheese, a bottle of elderflower cordial, a dozen or more freshly laid organic eggs, maybe a few sprouts, a big bunch of kale and some traditional home cured pork.

Not a whiff of Jo Malone (delish as it is) or Chanel in sight and the response was, unless I misjudged, unbridled delight. Home-grown and homemade is so cool once again.

Several times over Christmas, friends were discussing vegetable varieties they planned to grow.

The grandchildren were each given a Red Sentinel crab apple tree by their uncle Rory; others got apple trees or blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes.
My sister-in-law gave all her grandchildren a hen each to lay an egg for their breakfast but also to teach them how to care for poultry and how useful the manure is to add zing to the compost bed which, in turn, will make the soil more fertile to grow more beautiful vegetables and herbs. Everyone seemed to be on a mission to reconnect with nature.

The tradition of Little Christmas or Nollaig na Mban is also gathering momentum again.

Traditionally, over the festive season the men would have been pampered and eaten their fill and indeed often drunk to excess, but January 6 was the women’s own feast.

In some homes, there would be a high tea when all the dainties that the women enjoyed were served.

Thinly sliced white bread and homemade jam and cream, fluffy sponge cakes and tiny buns decorated with swirls of icing — and as if that wasn’t enough, plum cake, gingerbread, warm apple cakes and pots of the finest tea.

On January 7, the Christmas decorations were taken down and until quite recently there was a widespread custom of keeping aside the holly and wilted greenery to heat the pancake griddle on Shrove Tuesday.

In France, they celebrate the Feast of the Kings with the traditional Galette du Roi.

Every boulangerie has its own version of this recipe but this one is hard to beat and is easy to make, (right).

Galette du Roi

In France, on the Festival of the Kings over 50 million flaky Galette du Roi are eaten.

Tucked into the soft frangipane filling is a little surprise for the lucky person who chooses that slice.

There is a wonderful ritual played out every year, where everyone sits around the dining table but the youngest child climbs underneath.

As the galette is served slice by slice, Madame points at the portion and asks “Who is this slice for?”.

The child calls out each person’s name, the lucky person who finds the féve in their slice is the king and the golden crown is placed on their head.

As the king raises a glass everyone choruses, “The king drinks, the king drinks!”

Serves 8

1lb (450g) Puff Pastry

3oz (75g) ground hazelnuts toasted, freshly ground

1oz (25g) ground almonds

4 oz (110g) caster sugar

1½oz (45g) melted butter

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

2 tablesp. double cream

1 dessertsp. rum (optional)

Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt

Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/regulo 6.

Bake the hazelnuts on a baking tray until skins loosen.

Remove nuts from oven and place in a tea towel.

Rub off the loose papery skins. Let cool.

Grind the nuts in a nut grinder or chop in a food processor.

Increase oven temp to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8.

Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than ¼ inch thick, cut into 2 circles approx 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter.

Put one onto a damp baking sheet, chill and chill the other piece also.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together in a bowl until smooth.

Put the filling onto the pastry base, leaving a rim of about 1 inch (2.5mm) free around the edge.

Brush the rim with beaten egg or water and put on the lid of puff pastry, press it down well around the edges.

Make a small hole in the centre, brush with egg wash and leave for five minutes in the refrigerator.

With the back of a knife, nick the edge of the pastry 12 times at regular intervals to form a scalloped edge with a rose petal effect.

Mark long curving lines from the central hole outwards to designate formal petals. Be careful not to cut through the pastry — just score it.

Bake for 20 minutes in the pre-heated oven, then lower the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake for about 30 minutes.

While still hot, dredge heavily with icing sugar and return to a very hot oven or pop under a grill (do not leave the grill) — the sugar will melt and caramelise to a dark brown glaze.

Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Gingerbread

Serves 4-6

Traditionally in Ireland, we make gingerbread in a loaf tin and cut it into thick slices and slather them with butter.

This one is particularly good when it’s fresh, so eat it quickly.! Alternatively bake in a 22cm x 7.5cm (9 x 3 inch) square brownie tin for 40-45 minutes, serve cut into 12 x 7.5cm x 10cm (3 x 4 inch) squares with a blob of cold apple purée and cream or with crystallised ginger with cream.

Makes 1 loaf 225g (1/2 lb) white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g (4oz) soft brown sugar

75g (3oz) butter, cut into cubes

175g (6oz) treacle

150ml (5fl oz) milk

1 very small or 1/2 organic egg

50g (2oz) sultanas

25g (1oz) chopped crystallised ginger (optional)

Whipped cream

1 x 23cm (9 inches) x 12.5cm (5 inches) x 6.5cm (2 1/2 inches) loaf tin lined with silicone paper.

Preheat the oven to 180°C\350°F\gas mark 4.

First line the loaf tin with silicone paper. Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Gently warm the brown sugar with the cubed butter and treacle.

Add the milk. Allow to cool a little and stir into the dry ingredients, ensuring there are no little lumps of flour left (I use a whisk for this).

Add the beaten egg and the sultanas and ginger if desired. Mix thoroughly and bake in a lined loaf tin for about an hour in a moderate oven.

Cool in the tin. Serve with butter or a little whipped cream with crystallised ginger.
Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes

Makes 24 Cupcakes

225g (8oz) butter (at room temperature)

225g (8oz) caster sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

4 organic large eggs

Zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Curd

2oz (50g) butter

4oz (110g) caster sugar

grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)

Lemon Curd Cream

110ml (4fl oz) mascarpone

4 tablespoons lemon curd (see recipe)

2 tablespoons sieved icing sugar Garnish

Sprig of Lemon Balm or Lemon Verbena

2 muffin tins lined with 24 muffin cases.

Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

First make the cupcakes.
Put all ingredients into a food processor, whizz until smooth.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden. Meanwhile, make the lemon curd.

Melt the butter on a very low heat.

Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs.

Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back of it.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
To assemble

Mix the lemon curd into the mascarpone and add the sieved icing sugar. Put into a piping bag with a medium sized plain nozzle.

Put the remainder of the lemon curd into a piping bag with a small plain nozzle.

Insert the nozzle into the top of the cupcake and squeeze in a small teaspoon of lemon curd.

Pipe a blob of lemon cream over the top. It should almost cover the top of the cupcake.

Top with a meringue kiss and garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena. Eat as soon as possible.
Meringue Kisses

Makes 30

2 egg whites

110g (4oz) caster sugar

Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

To make the meringue:

Line a baking sheet with silicone paper.

Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.
Put into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) rosettes on to the baking sheet.

Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until set crisp.

Hot tips Midleton College Cook Book — it’s brilliant to see so many schools pushing out the posts to reconnect children with how food is produced, teaching them how to grow and cook.

Recently, they self-published the Midleton College Cookbook with contributions from students and parents, past and present.

For €15 it’s really worth seeking out; there are quite a few gems in it.

Vegetables for the Irish Garden, by Klaus Laitenberger — a brilliant book suitable for Irish conditions.

Another is Michael Brenock’s The Irish Gardener’s Handbook — a great read, as now is the perfect time to think about what you would like to grow in the spring.


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