Jan 172013
 

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My original plan for January’s BSFIC challenge was a date ice cream, swirling date puree through Pedro Ximinez ice cream… I had these fabulous meltingly soft dates that I picked up from my local Turkish shop before Christmas and I knew they’d be perfect in ice cream. But I made an enormous batch of apple, date and ginger chutney earlier in the month (recipe coming soon) and, half way through cooking, decided it needed more dates, so ended up using the entire box. I know I could have bought another box especially for the ice cream, and in fact, I probably will buy some more while they’re available because they’re so bloody gorgeous. But in my mind, the spirit of this month’s BSFIC is about using leftover dried fruits or nuts, and whilst I don’t mind if others do that or buy them in especially, I wanted to use fruit or nuts I had in the house.

So Pete reminded me about the bag of French walnuts sitting in the airing cupboard, gathered from the grounds in my friend Ian’s Corrèze home, dried in the sun and delivered to me as a very kind gift last year. (Even better was the year we visited and gathered the precious nuts ourselves).

I asked friends for ideas on ice cream  recipes using walnuts and was bombarded with delicious ideas including @TangoRaindrop’s Ben & Jerry inspired chunky monkey with frozen banana, double cream, chocolate and chopped walnuts and date and @Josordoni’s walnut ice cream. But my instant favourite was @Palate4Hire’s suggestion of candied walnuts and coffee. Since I adore coffee and walnut cake, this really made me salivate and had the benefit of sounding very simple to make too. A slug of rum from the drinks cupboard would complete the combination perfectly.

First step, make walnut brittle. Or candied walnuts. Whatever! The difference, as far as I can tell, is that for a brittle the nuts are not only enveloped in hard caramel, they are held together by it in a slab. Candied walnuts are also coated in melted sugar, but are loose from each other. And candied walnuts more often have other flavourings added too, I think.

Rather than following a recipe for walnut brittle, I decided to simply wing it, and to my delight, the results were perfect. I’m relieved that I wrote down the amounts I used so I can make it just the same next time.

 

How To Make Walnut Brittle

Ingredients
230 grams shelled walnuts
460 grams sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Note: You can adapt this to the weight of walnuts you have available. Weight your nuts, use double that amount of sugar, and adjust the amount of salt accordingly.

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Method

  • Line a baking tray with a silicon baking sheet or a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Break the walnuts into small pieces, though take care not to crush them as you’re not trying to make powdered walnut!

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  • In a large, heavy-based pan dry fry the walnut pieces for a minute or two to give them a slightly toasted flavour. Take care not to burn them. Remove to a bowl and set to one side.
  • Wipe the pan clean of walnut skin and then spread the sugar and salt evenly over the surface and heat over a medium flame. Don’t stir the sugar, just leave it alone to melt. Stirring tends to result in clumps that don’t melt evenly, as I remember all too well from previous caramelising efforts!
  • As soon as the sugar melts and takes on a rich golden brown colour, remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts. Work really quickly as the mixture will cool and harden fast and you need to distribute the walnuts evenly throughout the caramel.

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  • Transfer the mixture onto your lined baking tray and spread it out quickly.
  • Leave it to harden.
  • Once set, break intro manageable pieces and store in an airtight container.

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  • You may like to ask someone to hide the box from you so that you don’t eat the lot in one sitting.

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Coming next, Coffee Rum & Walnut Brittle Ice Cream!

 

Happy New Year!

It’s January and I’m sure we can’t be the only household with leftover dried fruit and nuts from the Christmas snack bowls?

So this year’s first Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream challenge is to incorporate one or both into an ice cream, sorbet, semi-freddo, slushy or spoom.

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Dates by Howard Walfish, Nuts by Iain Buchanan, creative commons license via Flickr

As usual, I’ve been bookmarking some ideas over on my BSFIC Pinterest board.

 

How To Take Part In BSFIC

  • Create and blog a recipe that fits the challenge by the 28th of the month.
  • In your post, mention and link to this Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream post.
  • In your post, include the Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream badge.
  • Email me (by the 28th of the month) with your first name or nickname (as you prefer), the link to your post and an image for my roundup, sized to no larger than 500 pixels on the longest side.

You are welcome to submit your post to as many blogger challenge events as you like.

If the recipe is not your own, please be aware of copyright issues. Please email me if you would like to discuss this.

If you like, please tweet about your post using#BSFIC. I’ll retweet any I see.

IceCreamChallenge

P.S. The round up for December’s boozy delights will be up in a couple of days!

Sep 242012
 

Throughout the summer I enjoyed lots and lots and lots of wonderful fruit. Some are fruits I have long known and loved, but there have been a few new ones too.

 

Flat Peaches & Nectarines

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Also known as flat peaches, doughnut peaches, saturn peaches and even UFO peaches these disk-like fruit are, at their best, incredibly sweet and juicy. I’ve been enjoying them for years, when I could get them.

This year a small local newsagent-cum-grocer’s sold Valencian ones for several weeks, a much longer season than I’ve seen before, so I really gorged myself. They have a pale, very intensely flavoured flesh. One week they were absolutely enormous in size, but the rest of the time, they’ve been much of a muchness.

One week, I came across flat nectarines, which was a first, though they were slightly past their best when I bought them, they tasted the same as their fuzzy-downed siblings.

 

Lychees

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I’ve always loved lychees, though Pete still insists they feel like eyeballs and smell like old lady perfume!

A local Turkish shop got some particularly great ones in this summer – big and sweet and juicy and intensely flavoured. A bag never last long!

 

Rambutans

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I don’t see rambutans on sale very often so I picked this packet up in China Town some weeks ago. The last time I had rambutan was some years ago!

The name derives from the Malay for “hairy”, and you can see why; with their bright red skin and green spines, they look like small hairy aliens! I’ve seen them with red spines too. From the same plant family as lychees, the fruits are somewhat similar in shape and texture, though the taste is a little different and also more subtle.

 

Fresh Dates

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Like many Brits, I adore dried dates with their sticky, chewy texture and toffee-sweet flavour. But I’d never even thought about what a fresh date might look like, let alone tried one. Indeed, when I saw these in my local Turkish shop, I had no idea what they were, and asked one of the staff members. When she told me they were fresh dates and could be eaten as they were, I immediately bought some to try.

They were quite a revelation, with more than a hint of the familiar flavour of their dried counterpart but an altogether different and lighter texture and juiciness. I shall look out for these again!

 

Indian and Pakistani Mangoes

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I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t greedily enjoy as many Indian and Pakistani mangoes as I could get my hands on during their season. This year started slowly but I caught up in the end!

 

Guavas

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I love guavas! I have fond memories of visiting family in India and climbing into a guava tree with my cousins.

However, when I’ve found these fruits on sale in the UK in the past, I’ve always been so disappointed. The scent has always been the familiar one, just like the fruit in India, but they haven’t tasted of anything at all.

Having been so happy with the rest of the fruit I’ve bought from the local Turkish shop, I decided to take a chance when I saw these on sale in August. To my delight, the flavour matched the beautiful smell and I was transported…

 

Prickly Pears

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Again, when I saw these on sale in the Turkish shop, I had no idea what they were and had to ask; there are hand written labels tacked to the shelves but seldom near the fruit they belong to.

I took these with me when visiting a friend who is equally excited about trying new things. On cutting into them, we discovered a vivid red flesh packed full of hard knobbly seeds. The seeds were so well distributed in the flesh it was impossible to cut them out, so eating involved sucking the fruit off the seeds and spitting them out. Sadly, it wasn’t worth the trouble. Whilst these were super sweet and juicy, there was no discernable flavour at all other than plain sweet.

Please forgive the awful photo – my mobile phone camera is really not very good.

 

Fresh Cobnuts

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More crappy phone camera photos, sorry!

Cobnuts, a British variety of hazelnut, are enjoying a renaissance, with new orchards being planted and old ones brought back to peak condition. I’ve enjoyed dried and roasted cobnuts before but had never tried freshly harvested ones, still in their green leafy outer coat. They are quite different to the dried ones, with a really juicy crunch and mild flavour. They remind me a lot of water chestnuts and I’m thinking they might work well in a East Asian-inspired curry.

 

What fruit have you been enjoying this year?

 

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About Cobnuts

The Kent Cob or cobnut is a cultivated variety of hazelnut which originated, as the name suggests, in the county of Kent.

Mankind have likely eaten wild hazelnuts from the dawn of our species, an excellent source of protein foraged from the land. Hazels are found throughout the temperate band of the Northern hemisphere and the nuts from Common, American, Asian and all other species of hazel are edible.

Evidence from an archaeological dig in Colonsay, Scotland suggests that hazelnuts have been cultivated on the British Isles for at least 9,000 years, probably longer.

In the more recent period of recorded history, hazelnuts have been grown in British gardens and orchards since at least the 16th century, though they were often referred to as filberts.

Unlike other nuts, hazelnuts were traditionally marketed as fresh. The season typically lasted from mid August through to October. Wholesalers bought and stored nuts, to sell them throughout the year. They were also much loved by mariners, as they kept fresh for many months and stored so well.

The Victorians adored them and many new cultivars were bred for yield, flavour and shape during the 19th century .

The Kentish Cob was introduced around 1830 and proved so popular that it quickly supplanted most other varieties grown in England. It was probably named for a children’s game similar to conkers but played with hazelnuts – the winning nut was called the cob.

By 1913, over 7,000 acres of plantations fed huge demand, with much of the produce taken into London by train. Kent was certainly the key producer, but cobnuts were also grown extensively throughout the Home Counties.

However, as labour became more expensive, after the First World War and throughout the rest of the 20th century, and as transport and refrigeration improved, British-grown nuts were less able to compete with imports. By 1990, barely 250 acres remained and many of these were derelict.

In that year, The Kentish Cobnuts Association was established with the aims of regenerating the industry, promoting cobnuts and representing its members.

Today, Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world, with significant quantities also produced by Italy, America, Greece, Spain and the UK.

In the UK, acreage is still around 250, but new orchards are once again being planted, not only the Kentish Cob, but other varieties too. They are proving to be a perfect crop for modern sensibilities as they are not prone to pests and diseases, they require little or no fertiliser or crop protectant and the crop is picked by hand.

If you are considering buying a hazel for your own garden, be aware that cobnuts are largely self sterile and cannot pollinate from the same variety. If you live in a rural area where there are wild hazels nearby, these will probably pollinate your tree, but otherwise, it is recommended that you purchase two compatible varieties that can pollinate each other.

 

About Demarquette

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The reason I’ve been doing so much reading about cobnuts (and other hazelnut varieties) is down to Demarquette, makers of very fine chocolates indeed.

A few weeks ago, Marc and Kim invited some friends to their Fulham Road store to sample some of their latest creations, and to meet their cobnut supplier, Hurswood Farm.

From the first, Demarquette have sought out the very best British ingredients, and created chocolates that really show them off at their best. So when they tell me about a product I should be enjoying, I know it’s going to be good.

Catherine Robinson from Hurswood Farm told us a little about the Kent Cob, and how Kentish farmers are not only renewing old orchards but planting new ones. She also introduced us to a product I had never come across before, pressed cobnut oil. Like walnut oil (which Hurswood also make) cobnut oil really is the very essence of the nut. Hurswood make a regular and a roasted variety, the latter takes twice as many nuts to produce the same volume but is very special indeed.

Cobnuts (and other varieties of hazelnuts) are commonly used to make pralines. But I was surprised to learn that many chocolatiers buy in their praline ready made. Marc makes his own, and it packs a much more natural and intense flavour than the ready made variety.

We tried a range of Demarquette products featuring cobnuts including Kentish Cobnut Pebbles (I absolutely adore these), Kentish Cobnut Jubilee Diamond Chocolate Pralines, Cobnut Nougat and Cobnut Brownies. All as good as they sound!

When I mentioned that I’d love to try making some cobnut bread, Kim kindly packed me some to take home, along with the little sample bottle of roasted cobnut oil and some of Marc’s pebbles.

 

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How To Make Cobnut Bread (Hazelnut)

Ingredients
70 grams cobnuts (or other hazelnuts), lightly roasted
15 ml cobnut oil
2 cups strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon dried baking yeast
Approximately 1 cup water

Method

  • Place the cobnuts into a bag and use a rolling pin or heavy bottle to break them into small pieces.

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  • In a mixing bowl (or using a stand mixer) combine the strong white bread flour, crushed cobnuts and baking yeast.

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  • Now add the wet ingredients – first the cobnut oil and then some of the water.

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  • Start to mix the ingredients together, adding more water as needed. Take care not to add too much water, or your finished dough will be very sticky and harder to handle and shape.
  • Either use the stand mixer to knead the dough well or knead by hand.

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  • Put the dough into a large bowl, cover and leave aside to rise. For us, this took about 2 hours.
  • Shape the dough and bake in a preheated oven (200 C fan oven, approximately half an hour but may vary).

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  • Leave to cool down a little before slicing.

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I enjoyed this bread fresh with salted butter and a home made broccoli and stilton soup, toasted with butter and jam and dipped into soft-boiled duck eggs. Delicious!

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