panna cotta

While I love to bake, occasionally an elegant dessert is called for at a particularly busy moment. I was delighted to find that panna cotta is not only absolutely gorgeous in flavour and style, it is extraordinarily simple to make. Translated from Italian as “cooked cream”, for this you’ll need 500ml each of cream and milk, six sheets of gelatine, a dozen drops of stevia (or sugar to taste) and either a splash of vanilla or a bean if you’ve got it.

panna-cotta---1s.jpg

My small child helped soak the gelatine in cold water for five minutes. She was fascinated with the stuff. I put the other ingredients in a pot to warm up, just to a low simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon. Then my little one squeezed out the gelatine, I took the pot off the fire, and she stirred it in well.

panna-cotta---2s.jpg

I had our sundae glasses
waiting to be filled, though turning out the panna cotta from a mould is just beautiful too.

panna-cotta---3s.jpg

Put them to chill for a few hours til set. This is the most impatient part. I served these with a dusting of cocoa and berries cooked into a colourful compote on the side. Our long silver spoons reach nearly to the bottom of the glass. This recipe is perfect if you’re avoiding sugar and grains of any kind.

panna-cotta---5s.jpg

Ring the changes with elderflower cordial or almond essence, even substitute coconut milk for the dairy. I adore it darkly flavoured with cocoa and melted chocolate for a last-minute Valentine.

vanilla stevia

Like sugar, vinegar, and alcohol, the natural sweetener stevia can be infused with flavour. After an experiment in making lavender sugar, I wanted to try infusing sugar with vanilla.

homemade vanilla-infused stevia © elisa rathje

Only, we rarely eat sugar! So I filled a dropper bottle with alcohol-based stevia, and slipped a cut bean into it. After even a few days, occasionally shaking the little bottle, the stevia develops a gorgeous flavour. Infusing vanilla stevia is much faster than making homemade vanilla extract – though we are doing that too! When we’re very busy and haven’t much chance to make food from scratch, these little things are quite satisfying.

rustic tart

Making shortcrust pastry has to be amongst the easiest and the best skills to have in the kitchen. For providing the perfect backdrop to an endless variation in fillings, from savoury, like the leek and dorset blue tart I made at River Cottage, to a sweet seasonal fruit tart, shortcrust pastry is perfect. The glorious days of blueberries are imminent, so let’s make a rustic tart, the one I baked for the folks at Heart Home, when they came out to visit the old cottage.

shortcrust

I like to make a large recipe, and bake two. Start with 500 grams of flour (I used a mix of white and whole spelt), 250 grams of cold unsalted butter, a couple of egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and 100 ml of cold milk, though we may not use it all. For the filling, cook five or six cups of blueberries until their liquid reduces a bit, then remove from heat and toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of light flour. Squeeze half a lemon in, too.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the butter into the flour til it’s in tiny pieces, and then start rubbing the butter into the flour. (I like to wash my hands in cold water, as you don’t want to melt the butter in!) You’re looking for the moment when the flour turns yellow, and resembles breadcrumbs.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Yellow? Excellent. Mix in the two egg yolks.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Add some milk in splashes, just until the dough comes together and no more. Knead it for a minute. You could break the dough in half and form two balls. I wrap mine in parchment, then toss it in a bag to chill in the fridge for a half hour. Heat your oven to 375F/180C. On a very lightly floured surface, roll the dough out thinly, and lift it onto a flat, parchment lined tray.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Dollop the blueberry filling into the middle, fold the pastry in, and sprinkle with some coarse sugar if you’ve got some around. Bake it for close to an hour! And serve, cooled, with some whipped cream. It looks
incredibly gorgeous when it’s baked
, especially if you’ve got a professional photographer and a pair of magazine editors to document the event.

breadsticks

When I’ve made flatbreads or English muffins or pizza, I love to make breadsticks out of the last of the dough.

stick-dough

I use a simple recipe for everything inspired by recipes from the River Cottage Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens. Mine is 500g each of whole and white spelt, 10g of yeast, 650ml of warm water, though I usually make up part of that with sourdough culture to deepen the flavour, 20g of sea salt, and a good glug of olive oil. I knead that well and leave it to rise, covered, overnight before using it for various recipes. Preheat the oven to about 200 C/375 F.

Roll out a good handful of the dough to a half centimeter on a floured surface.

cut-dough

Slice lengths of about a finger’s width;

spirals

Arrange them on an oiled tray in shapes as you please. The spirals are delightful, my children adore them. I like to drizzle the bread with garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt.

garlic-baked

Bake them through, about 18-20 minutes. I once made the mistake of putting them in a piping hot oven I’d been baking pizza in, and it swiftly turned them to charcoal.

breadsticks

Breadsticks! So great for simple meals out in the garden.

rosehip cordial

Last year we made a rosehip infusion, sweetened lightly with a little stevia, and used within a short time like you would fresh juice. This year we wanted to preserve rosehip cordial to use medicinally throughout the winter. Gathering rosehips to make a vitamin C-rich cordial was encouraged during wartime in Britain. We’re growing very fond of the tradition. We used a combination of rosehips, including apple roses like the ones Alÿs Fowler showed us. We’re so fond of nibbling round those fresh, but they were starting to go, so we hurried to collect a bowl of them.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Give the hips a rinse,

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Then remove the stems. Aren’t they just gorgeous?

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Chop them roughly. Keep in mind that the seeds are used for itching powder! You needn’t remove them though.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Toss them in a pot of boiling water using just less than double the volume of water as their weight – so if you have 400 grams of rosehips, use about 700ml of water. Bring it all to boil again, leave it to cool somewhat, and pour through a scalded cloth.

rosehip-5

Hang up your muslin or jelly bag full of rosehips and let them drip for a while, and repeat the whole process again. This time leave it to hang overnight.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Combine the infusions and measure them. The River Cottage Preserves recipe calls for 650 grams of sugar to about 1 litre of juice.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

Slowly heat til the sugar is dissolved, then boil for a couple of minutes.

rosehip cordial © elisa rathje 2011

I sterilise my cordial bottles in the dishwasher and if I can’t time it well to have warm bottles ready, I fill them with hot water while they’re waiting, then quickly pour the water out just before ladling in the hot syrup and corking them. Preserves says to use within 4 months. This won’t be a problem over here. Sterilise in a water bath if you want to keep it longer, and keep refrigerated once opened. We love a couple of splashes of rosehip cordial in a glass of water and we’re very much looking forward to having it all through the cold seasons.