Turkish Delight

People keep asking me for a Turkish Delight recipe. Must be the creeping fingers of the Snow Queen; I am the only person I know who’s not been to see the Narnia film, and while I remain relatively unmoved by sweeties, everybody else is begging for chunks of fragrant goo.

CS Lewis was on to a good thing when he had the boy Edmund betray Narnia for little cubes of this scented, sticky sweetmeat. Lokum, or Turkish Delight, is undeniably delicious, and it’s a recipe with history. According to the story, five hundred years ago, Sultan Abdul Hamid called all his sweet-makers together, and ordered them each to make a new and delicious confectionary to keep the women in his harem quiet and happy. One came back with a tray of petal-soft, flower-scented Turkish delight, and the Sultan was so pleased with it that he immediately appointed the man as his Chief Confectioner, and served the sweet daily.

History does not relate whether the women became quiet. My guess is that whatever happened, they probably became quite plump.

The craze for things Turkish which spread around Europe in the 1770s and 1780s (just think about the entertainment at the time, like Mozart’s Die Entfürung aus dem Serail, with the executions and the gauzy Turkish ladies running around the seraglio pursued by manly Janissaries with curving swords and even more curving moustaches. You don’t need to be awfully perceptive to see why things Turkish had such appeal) made sweetmeats like this all the more popular, and Turkish Delight was swapped by courting couples and given as a fashionable gift.

Unlike some quicker recipes, this old-fashioned recipe doesn’t use gelatine. Instead, the Turkish Delight is thickened with cornflour and caramelised sugar (and is suitable for vegetarians, if you’re feeling full of festive goodwill and wish to feed the poor afflicted things). Try this recipe rather than one with gelatine. It takes a bit longer, but the texture is more authentic and so much better than the texture you get with gelatine that it well justifies the extra fiddle.

For 80 pieces (40 orange-flower flavour, 40 rose flavour) you’ll need:

4 cups sugar
4 1/2 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup cornflour (cornstarch for Americans)
1 teaspoon cream of tartar (this stops the mixture from crystalising)
1 tablespoon essence of rose water
1 tablespoon essence of orange-flower water (both of these ingredients are made by the English Provender Company and are available in the UK in supermarkets)
1 cup icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar for Americans)
1/4 cup extra cornflour

Begin by boiling the sugar with the lime juice and 1 1/2 cups of water. Use a jam thermometer and remove from the heat when the syrup reaches the soft ball stage (115C).

While you are boiling the sugar syrup, combine the cream of tartar and a cup of cornflour with three cups of cold water. (Using cold water should prevent lumps.) Mix well and bring up to a simmer, stirring all the time. Continue stirring at a simmer until the mixture has made a thick, gluey paste. Stir the sugar syrup into this paste. (If you end up with lumps at this stage, push everything into a saucepan through a sieve with the back of a ladle.)

Simmer the sugar and cornflour mixture, stirring every few minutes, until it’s a golden-honey colour and about 120C (this is halfway between soft and hard ball on your jam thermometer, and will take about an hour). Divide the mixture into two, and pour it into two prepared trays lined with oiled cling film (American readers – this is what we call Saran wrap over here). Add a tablespoon of rose water and a few drops of pink food colouring to one and stir, a tablespoon of orange-flower water to the other, and stir. Cover and chill for a few hours until set.

Turn out the wobbling sections. You will be glad for that oiled cling film. Slice the set Turkish Delight into cubes, and roll in a mixture of 1 cup icing sugar and 1/4 cup cornflour so that they don’t stick together. Set before the ravening hordes. If, unaccountably, they don’t raven their way through the whole lot in one go, store in airtight boxes between layers of greaseproof paper, well-dusted with the icing sugar/cornflour mixture.

Lemon drizzle cake

I’m coming down with a cold (this is atrocious timing; I’ve still got some Christmas shopping and a good deal of seasonal cooking to do, and this is one of the busiest times of year at work). Mr Weasel took pity on me and has done the baking for tonight’s post.

Lemon drizzle cake is a staple of church fetes, school fundraisers and coffee mornings across the country. Marco Pierre White may be driving yet another media campaign along the lines of ‘British food stinks and you’re all lazy toads‘, but he surely can’t find anything bad to say about our cakes. The lemon drizzle cake is a thing of genius, and is full of healthful vitamin C for all those of you who, like me, are brewing colds. It’s a feathery, light sponge flavoured with the natural oils from the lemon zest, and topped with a sugary, lemony, crunchy coating.

Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cakes (an excellent book you should buy if you’re even only slightly interested in baking) says you’ll need:

4oz (100g) soft margarine
6oz (175g) caster sugar
6oz (175g) self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 extra large eggs
4 tablespoons milk
zest of 1 lemon
Crunchy topping
juice of 1 lemon
4oz (100g) caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180c/350f, and line and grease a 7in deep round cake tin.

Mr Weasel beat all the cake ingredients together until light, smooth and fluffy, turned the mixture into the tin and baked for 40 minutes. Use the patented Mr Weasel Aural Method to find out whether your cake is done; put an ear near it. (Do not burn your ear. I don’t want a McDonald’s-style lawsuit on my cakey hands.) An underdone cake will make tiny pricking noises. A done cake will be silent, which is how cakes should be.

Made the sugar and lemon juice into a paste, and prick the surface of the hot cake with a fork. Spread the paste over the top, leave it in the cake tin to cool, turn out and eat.

Canteloupe and winter melon ice cream

Apologies for the lack of a post last night; one of my friends had his UK Citizenship ceremony yesterday, and we were out late celebrating. (When I got home, I was arguably not in a fit state to be allowed anywhere near a keyboard.) This means you get an early morning, pre-work post.

Buying the melons for this ice cream was an interesting experience. I was casting around the supermarket for some fruit to turn into an ice cream, and saw a stack of canteloupes. Next to it was a second stack of canteloupes; these were nearly half the price. Why could this be? I picked up an expensive one. It smelled fragrant and melony, even through the skin. I picked up a cheap one. It smelled like a potato.

I don’t like potato ice cream, even potato ice cream that’s a pretty melon colour, so I went for the expensive ones.

To make this ice cream you will need:

2 canteloupe melons, seeds and skin removed
1/2 pint milk
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons honey
1 pack crystalised winter melon (see below)
2 drops vanilla essence

I started by making a custard as a base; the milk was brought to a near-simmer with the vanilla and honey (from a jar of local honey from bees from the next village), and the egg yolks were beaten in until the mixture thickened. I then pureed the melons in the Magimix, then passed them through a sieve into the custard, folded everything together, and added the winter melon, cut into tiny pieces. Refrigerate the mixture, then follow the instructions on your ice cream maker.

Candied winter melon was my favourite Chinese sweets when I was a little girl. On trips to London I would bully my parents into going to Chinatown to visit the supermarkets, so I could take a pack home. It’s tooth-achingly sweet, and the melon has a slightly crisp texture, like a water chestnut. If you’re near a Chinese supermarket, do try to get your hands on a pack for this recipe; you could also substitute Italian candied melon, but this is so good that it would be a shame if you couldn’t try it.

Winter melon grows in the summer, but has a waxy skin which means it will keep for many months, giving it its name. It’s used in Chinese cooking as a vegetable (if it’s not candied, it’s not very sweet; it’s really a gourd and not a sweet melon); it has a crisp texture and is a good carrier of flavours. Once candied, it’s sublimely good.

I was hoping to garnish the ice cream with winter melon pieces as well, but unfortunately we’d eaten the few I kept to one side by the time the ice cream was ready. (I defy you to be able to leave unaccompanied winter melon in your kitchen for long without accidentally eating it.) It was delicious; Mr Weasel made gurgling noises and said ‘it tastes like sweeties’. Most of the ice cream is now in the freezer, so we can keep people happy at Christmas.

Barb Schaller’s famous custard cake – with raspberries

I lack a sweet tooth. Mr Weasel’s sweet tooth, however, is pointy, fang-like and preternaturally well-developed. So while I slept in late at the weekend, he set about making Barb Schaller’s rhubarb custard cake. We didn’t have any rhubarb, so he fished some raspberries out of the freezer, and used them instead.

I found this cake recipe on Usenet several years ago. It’s very easy, making use of (I’m going to hell) cake mix in a box, and is obscenely delicious, even for those of us who don’t usually go for pudding.

Barb’s original recipe follows. Mr Weasel substitutes each incidence of the word ‘rhubarb’ with ‘raspberries’, the dear, dear man:

Rhubarb Custard Cake

Recipe By :shared by Barb Schaller
Serving Size : 18 Preparation Time :0:00
Categories : cakes desserts

Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
——– ———— ——————————–
1 yellow cake mix — 2-layer
4 cups rhubarb
1 cup granulated sugar
1 pint whipping cream — 2 cups

Prepare batter for cake mix according to package directions; turn into
greased and floured 9×13″ pan. Dump the chopped rhubarb on top of the cake
batter. Sprinkle the sugar on top of the rhubarb. Pour the whipping cream
(unwhipped) over the sugar. Bake at 350° for 50-60 minutes, until cake
springs back when lightly touched.

Cream, sugar, and rhubarb sink to bottom, forming a custard layer. Makes
1-18 (depending on how you cut it!!) dee-vine servings.

When I first read this recipe, the comments posted on Usenet following it were so rhapsodic I decided it deserved a spin, even though yellow cake mix is not something you can buy here in the UK. I visit America reasonably regularly, and there’s always space in the suitcase when we go abroad for interesting local ingredients, so on my next visit I used some of the space usually devoted to California chili pods and chipotles in adobo, and bought a couple of boxes of cake mix. (Later I discovered you can buy it and other American groceries in the UK at websites like American Soda, which is splendid, but which makes me worry for the sanity of some of its customers, who leave feedback on Mountain Dew saying that the stuff is ‘the best drink in the world’. If you’ve not tried it, please don’t. It’s not.)

What on earth do they put in this cake mix? This Duncan Hines stuff is disturbingly good for something out of a packet. It’s almost . . . unnatural. Once beaten with butter and eggs using the hand mixer, it’s white and fluffy. The raspberries are sprinkled on top, dusted with sugar, and the cream is poured over.

Raspberries are more expensive than rhubarb (unless you’re growing them, of course), but my, this substitution is good – like your hair, it’s worth it. They’re sweet but tart, and the creamy custard is a perfect companion for them. Stock up when they’re in season; they freeze well.

I usually find that the mixture needs cooking for a little longer (ten minutes or so) than the recipe states. It’s easy to test with a skewer, which should come out clean when pushed through the mix (if a bit raspberry-coloured at the end).

The top of the cake cracks and becomes a golden crust, with an occasional spurt of pink custard bubbling through. The smell is, as Barb says, dee-vine. We leave the cake on the side for half an hour to cool until it’s warm and buttery, and dig in.

I think I’m developing a sweet tooth.

Full of beans – Part 2

After a night and a day of slow steeping, the cream and yolk mixture I made last night has gone a hazelnut-brown. I strain it to get rid of the beans (the mixture was already thick from the warmed-through yolks, and has been made thicker by the acidic coffee beans), and churn it in my new ice cream maker. (This is almost a complete disaster, when I fail to read the instructions properly and get the turning on/adding liquid in the wrong order. A bit of fierce scraping with a silicone spatula sorts things out.)

Until now, I’ve made ice cream in a plastic box in the freezer, beating it with a fork frequently as it freezes. The ice cream churn results in a much softer, creamier texture.

The sweetness of the mixture is toned down a bit once the ice cream has been frozen. We eat it in happy silence – I wish I’d made more.

Full of beans – Part 1

More friends are coming over tomorrow evening. One, Chris, is a man fuelled entirely by caffeine – his heart does not beat; it percolates. I’ll start on some whole-bean coffee ice-cream this evening, which I’ll churn while we’re eating tomorrow. After a day and a night of steeping, the custard the ice cream is based on will be rich and strong.

Why whole beans? Well, the resulting ice-cream comes out very rich, and very smooth, without an acidic edge. An overnight steep means that the ice-cream still has a strong coffee flavour.

I use a whole bag of dark-roast espresso beans, and pour over a litre of whipping cream. God; this already smells fantastic, and I haven’t even done any cooking yet. The cream and coffee beans go in a thick-bottomed saucepan (mine is a Le Creuset pan); make sure yours is thick so the bottom of the cream doesn’t scorch. I bring the cream and coffee slowly to a simmer, and remove the pan from the heat.

While the cream and coffee are warming up, I beat 225g sugar with six egg yolks using a fork, making sure not to beat in too much air. This will make the custard very sweet, but for some reason, ice-creams usually taste less sweet once frozen, so you need to be quite generous with the sugar. The yolks at this time of year are a beautiful orange.

When the cream has been scalded, it is poured over the yolks and sugar, stirring all the time to avoid scrambling them. When everything is well-mixed, it all goes back in the saucepan on a low heat, and is stirred gently until the yolks thicken the cream.

Now the mixture is put in a mixing bowl, and left on the counter until cool. I’ll put it in the fridge before I go to bed, and leave it there until dinner time tomorrow. The beans are already giving up some colour and lots of flavour to the custard – I’m looking forward to tasting the final mixture tomorrow. This one’s going to be good.

Quince Jelly

quincesI didn’t make any quince jelly last year; the quinces on the tree at my Mum’s house came ripe and then dropped off while I was busy getting married and going on honeymoon. This was an ill-considered piece of timing on my part, and resulted in a year of married bliss with no quince jelly. Catastrophe. This needed putting right before we found each other weak and snappish at the lack of sugar, our marriage under intolerable, hypoglycaemic strain.

Quinces are a lot like a large pear in appearance; they’re also covered with a soft, furry down. They smell extremely fragrant, but they’re not edible raw; a raw quince is very hard, astringent and bitter. Cooked, however, they change in character completely. They lose their golden-yellow colour and their tart taste, and become pinkish, soft and intensely scented.

When I make quince jelly, I follow Mrs Beeton’s recipe. (There are only a very few of Mrs Beeton’s recipes I would happily cook from, but her preserves are usually excellent, and, of course, preserving was much more important to the refrigerator-free Victorians than it is to us.) It’s very simple – all you need is quinces, water and sugar. She says:

INGREDIENTS – To every pint of juice allow 1 lb. of loaf sugar.

Mode – Pare and slice the quinces, and put them into a preserving-pan with sufficient water to float them. Boil them until tender, and the fruit is reduced to a pulp; strain off the clear juice, and to each pint allow the above proportion of loaf sugar. Boil the juice and sugar together for about 3/4 hour; remove all the scum as it rises, and, when the jelly appears firm when a little is poured on a plate, it is done. The residue left on the sieve will answer to make a common marmalade, for immediate use, by boiling it with 1/2 lb. of common sugar to every lb. of pulp. Time – 3 hours to boil the quinces in water; 3/4 hour to boil the jelly.

(If you prefer metric measurements, use 600ml of juice to every 450g of sugar.)

Quinces are, as I mentioned above, absolutely rock-hard. I sharpened my big cook’s knife until it had an edge that would put a samurai sword to shame, and started to lay about the quinces, helping the task along by imagining the faces of countless enemies on each one. (I bear grudges for decades. It provides me with excellent chopping-fuel.)

sliced quinceRipe quinces often have small brown patches inside, as in this picture (they’ll get browner as they sit in your pan and the oxygen gets to them, too). Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean your quince is bad. My Mum, who taught me to make this, always insisted that it’s important that you leave the seeds in, but I do wonder whether she’s confusing quinces with citrus fruits, where the seeds are important in jam-making for the pectin, the enzyme which makes the jam gel properly. I give her the benefit of the doubt and leave them in anyway. I also deviate a little from Mrs Beeton here; I don’t pare (peel) the quinces, having discovered a few years ago that it doesn’t make any difference to the finished jelly; you’ll want to peel them if you intend on making the marmalade (quince cheese) that she mentions, but I’m not intending on doing that; there’s little enough room in my cupboards as it is.

Le Creuset pansAbout twenty chopped quinces fill my two largest Le Creuset pans. I’ve plonked my knife and an apple between the pans so you can get an idea of scale – these pans are 26 and 28cm in diameter – this is a lot of chopped quince. The largest pan (the blue one) needs about three litres of water to fill it enough to make the quince bits bob about merrily, the orange pan about two and a half. Simmering for three hours will reduce the quince to a pulp in a gorgeously pink juice, and will scent your whole house with a honeyed, fruity perfume.cooked quince

I used to strain jellies by lining a sieve with butter muslin and balancing it precariously on top of the bowl I was straining the jelly into. This year I have seen sense and bought a proper jelly bag from Lakeland. I’m not impressed; the metal stand is coated with red plastic, but the plastic is flaking off the ring around the top as if it’s got a particularly nasty skin disease. I need to be careful that none of it ends up in the jelly.

jelly bagThe bowl I want to strain into is too big for the stand. It has to balance on it precariously. My hairy-handed sous chef, Mr Weasel, will need to hold it steady when I put the pulp in the bag.

Quinces contain enough pectin to gel naturally, but the set you get from quince-pectin alone is quite soft. I prefer a harder set, so I use jam sugar, which comes with pectin already added.

The orange pan yields five pints of juice, the blue one six. Bugger, that’s a lot. I don’t have enough jam jars. Today’s most shocking discovery is that it’s cheaper to buy Tesco Value marmalade and throw it away (31p per jar – and this is difficult, because throwing perfectly good food away makes me feel physically ill – but what do you do with six lb of jarless, cheap jam?) than it was to buy my pristine jars and lids from Lakeland (about 50p, including the lid, which has to be bought separately). Mr Weasel, craving jelly, drives to Tesco and buys six jars of sacrificial marmalade.

quince jelly
After 45 minutes of simmering (with no lid), 22lb (10 kilos) of quince jelly is ready to go into the sterilised jars. This should be enough to go on crumpets, accompany and glaze roast lambs, drizzle over blue cheeses and make presents for the neighbours until next autumn.