Sunday, 25 September 2016

Recipe: Churros

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan of the Great British Bake Off, a programme where amateur bakers compete to be crowned the Bake Off Champion.
The competition takes place over a number of weeks, each of which has a different theme. Topics covered include cakes, biscuits, bread, tarts and this year for the first time ever there was a ‘batter week’ during which the contestants had to make Yorkshire puddings, lacy pancakes and churros.
Churros are made from a dough – similar to choux pastry – which is piped into long fingers or into spirals before being deep-fried  and then tossed in cinnamon sugar whilst still hot. They are popular in Spain, Portugal and Latin America where they are often eaten for breakfast with a strong cup of coffee. I love to eat them with a chocolate dipping sauce, but they are also fabulous on their own.
This churro dough is incredibly easy to make but as it is quite stiff, some strength is needed when piping the individual churros. Some recipes advocate piping them straight into the hot oil but I find it easier to pipe then out onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper first. Also, although I love the convenience of plastic disposable piping bags, I find that fabric piping bags work best when making churros as they are stronger. Use a scissors to snip each churro once it is the required length.

250g plain flour, sifted
50g butter
200ml water
1tsp of vanilla extract
Chocolate Dipping Sauce:
125g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
250ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
To finish:
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
350ml vegetable oil
To make the churros:

  1. Place the flour into a mixing bowl. Separately, place the butter, water and vanilla extract into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into the flour, mixing well with a wooden spoon so that there are no pockets of flour remaining.
  2. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes and then place in a fabric piping bag fitted a large star shaped nozzle. Pipe 15cms lengths of the mixture onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper until all the mixture has been piped. Place the tray in the fridge for 30 minutes as the churros will hold their shape better when they are deep-fried.
Chocolate dipping sauce:
  1. Place all the ingredients into a small saucepan and heat together over a medium-low heat, stirring constantly to create a smooth sauce. Serve warm alongside the finished churros in a small bowl.
To fry the churros:
  1. Mix the caster sugar and cinnamon together and place on a large flat bowl.
  2. Heat the vegetable oil to approximately 160C in a large heavy-based saucepan and then fry the churros in batches, 3 or 4 at a time until golden brown all over (about 4-5 minutes). Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper before tossing in the sugar and cinnamon mixture.  Serve warm with the chocolate sauce.
Makes 15-16 churros.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Recipe: Beetroot Cupcakes with Orange & Poppy Seed Icing

We are all so used to carrots being used in baking and whilst Carrot Cake is definitely one of my favourites, I wanted to try something a little different, so I decided to experiment a little by replacing beetroot in my standard Carrot Cupcakes recipe. I felt that a cream cheese icing would clash with the earthy sweet and very distinct flavour of the beetroot, so finished these cupcakes with a simple orange glacé icing and a sprinkling of poppy seeds.

The cupcake batter is quite a deep purple colour prior to baking but this mellows a bit in the heat of the oven. However the beetroot flavour remains wonderfully intense. These cupcakes are incredibly easy to make and a must for anyone who loves beetroot!

Beetroot Cupcakes ingredients

200g self-raising flour, sifted
175g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
150ml sunflower oil
200g beetroots, peeled and grated

150g icing sugar
Juice of ½ orange
1 tblsp poppy seeds


Prior to baking
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases.
  2. Place the flour, sugar, spices, bicarbonate of soda and orange zest in a large mixing bowl and mix briefly with a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients.
  3. Add the lightly whisked eggs, sunflower oil and grated beetroot and mix together until thoroughly combined. Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for approximately 20 minutes until the cupcakes are well risen and a thin skewer inserted into the centre of one comes out clean.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes before transferring the cupcakes to a wire rack to finish cooling.

  1. Place the icing sugar in a small mixing bowl and add enough orange juice to create an icing with a fluid consistency, but don’t make it too runny. Drizzle some of the icing over each cupcake and scatter over some poppy seeds before the icing sets.

Makes 12 Cupcakes.

The finished Beetroot Cupcakes

Restaurant Review: St. George's Terrace Restaurant, Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim

The financial downturn had a huge impact on the hospitality industry in Ireland. Whilst restaurants have always worked to tight margins, they were faced with even harsher economic realities during the recession and had to quickly adapt to avoid going under. Many of them changed their pricing structures, introducing early-bird deals and other initiatives. Chefs started using cheaper cuts of meat and other ingredients in new and innovative ways on their menus to tempt cash-strapped customers through the doors.
St. George's Terrace
‘Experts’ proclaimed that fine-dining was dead. I’m never quite sure what is meant by ‘fine-dining’ and for me delicious food is just good food but I accept that there are many different types of dining experience. One thing that I do believe is true is that people are more interested in food and where it comes from. As we claw our way out of the recession, there seems to a renewed optimism in the hospitality industry with quite a few restaurant openings over the past year. Many of these restaurants are outside the main cities, which is also an encouraging sign. People are keener than ever before to dine out and we should embrace this newfound optimism by supporting local restaurants and celebrating the great food that is being produced in many of them.
St. George’s Terrace Restaurant in the beautiful town of Carrick-on-Shannon in County Leitrim opened in late 2015. The restaurant is housed in an elegant red-brick Victorian building on the street from which it takes its name and has already gained a reputation for serving top-class food. The building was once home to a bank but it has been beautifully renovated and inside, comprises a number of high-ceilinged dining rooms, a comfortable bar area, kitchen and a cookery school.
The restaurant is co-owned by Manager Siobhan Smyth and Head Chef Dave Fitzgibbon both of whom have many years of experience working in restaurants and the hospitality sector. After studying Culinary Arts in Cathal Bruagh Street, Dave a native of Carrick-on-Shannon, worked in a number of fine-dining and Michelin starred restaurants before returning home to open St. George’s Terrace with business partner Siobhan.
We were greeted warmly by Siobhan and shown into the bar area where we examined the menu and had a Gin & Tonic each made using Gunpowder Gin (from local Shed Distillery in Drumshambo, County Leitrim). After some discussion we decided to go for the 9-course Tasting Menu (€75 per person).
We were then brought to our table in the downstairs dining room. Decorated in a fetching navy colour, the bar and downstairs dining room are spacious but still have an intimate feel. White linen table cloths adorn the tables and are in keeping with the sophisticated feel of the period dining room.
Goat's Cheese Foam
The meal kicked off with an exceptional Selection of Bread including a soda-style Wheaten Bread, Tomato Bread, Black Olive Bread, Bacon & Onion Bread and a Plain White. These were served in an enamel bowl and accompanied by a generous amount of butter.  Great care and attention had gone into making the differently shaped breads and each possessed a good flavour and was light and fluffy with a slightly chewy crumb. I was impressed. The breads were followed by an amuse bouche of Goat’s Cheese Foam whimsically presented in an egg shell. Light as air, the savoury mousse dissolved pleasantly on the tongue releasing a subtle goat’s cheese flavour.
Next up was the stunning looking Home Tea Smoked Salmon on Apple Jelly with Avocado & Cucumber, Horseradish Snow & Wasabi Caviar Things were getting serious here. It arrived to the table in a smoke-filled glass bell cloche which was ceremoniously lifted by our waiter before serving. Here two roundels of melt-in-the-mouth salmon were served with a silky avocado mousse, cucumber jelly and slightly effervescent horseradish ‘snow’. Tiny pearls of slightly fiery wasabi ‘caviar’ completed the dish and added textural interest. To accompany the amuse bouche and salmon we supped on glasses of a Grüner Veltliner, Weingut Malat, Kremstal (2014/15) (€36 per bottle) which, with its nose of citrus fruits giving way to crisp green apple on the palate, was wonderfully refreshing.
Pear & Blue Cheese Salad
The Grilled Asparagus with Pear & Blue Cheese Salad - a simple sounding dish - proved to be a well-considered plate of food containing nuggets of Crozier Blue were served alongside a sorbet also made from the cheese, slices of compressed pear and peppery nasturtium leaves. This was lovely light dish where the cheese was the star of the show.
Pan-Seared Foie Gras with Rhubarb Earl Grey Tea Jelly & Gingerbread Crumb had a festive feel to it and again was a plate with a lot of well thought-out elements on it. The foie gras had been expertly cooked and was buttery rich and wonderful to eat whilst the jelly proved some much needed acidity. Braised Belly of Castlemine Farm Pork & Cheeks, Crumbed Homemade sausage, Celeriac, Turnip Purée, Fresh Gooseberry was and equally good dish and like the foie gras rich on the palate. I particularly liked the soft, yielding cheek meat but the star of the plate was the homemade sausage which was nicely spiced and comforting to eat. With these dishes we had a Mâcon Uchizy, Cave Talmard, Burgundy 2014 (€35 per bottle) –a lovely un-oaked medium bodied wine with gentle citrus notes that went well with the food.
Foie Gras
For me, the Pan-Fried Fillet of Brill, Asparagus, Samphire, Beans & Fennel Pollen was the dish of the night. The fish had been simply cooked and was well-seasoned which brought out its inherent maritime sweetness. A deeply flavoured velouté added a luxurious note  without taking away from the flavour of the fish.
We were worried that the Breast of Thornhill Duckling, Fresh Apricot, Roast Parsnip, Toasted Almonds, Blood Orange Gel would be very heavy after the courses that had preceded it but the fresh acidity of the fresh apricots and tangy get mitigated its richness and we ate the lot. A Losada el Péjaro Rojo,Bierzo Do 2014 (€34 per bottle) with its lovely fresh flavours complimented the duck perfectly.
Thornhill Duckling
A duo of desserts finished our tasting meal. First up was a mini 99 Cone, filled with a wonderful vanilla ice-cream followed by Iced Blackcurrant Parfait, Redcurrant Sorbet, Meringues & Honey which I attacked with child-like glee.  Presented almost like a dessert version of a fruity pick-and-mix selection there was nothing on the plate that I could criticise as all the elements had been well executed. I’m a sucker for viscous dessert wines and took little persuading to indulge in a glass of Moscato Passito Palazzina, Il Cascinone, Piemonte 2012 (€5.50 per glass, €27 per bottle). I loved this beautifully balanced wine with its hint of overripe apricots.
Unable to consume anything else, Siobhan sent us on our way with a little bag of the Petits Fours we had been unable to eat. The next day I tucked into the excellent vanilla fudge, truffles and blackcurrant pate de fruit with my mid-morning cup of tea and relived some of the tastes from the night before.
Iced Blackcurrant Parfait
The food in St. George’s looks beautiful and has the ‘wow’ factor. Dave Fitzgibbon is a talented chef who displays a true respect for and understanding of the ingredients that he uses. Service is exemplary and makes you feel at ease. In many ways you don’t feel like a customer in Siobhan and Dave’s restaurant, but rather a much-valued guest.  St. George’s may have opened last year but if the food being served there is an indication of the state of the restaurant industry in Ireland, I think that we should all feel positive about the future.
St. George’s Terrace
County Leitrim
Phone: 0719616546
This review first appeared in
Petits Fours

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Recipe: Gin & Tonic Drizzle Cake

Great British Bake Off is back and my Wednesday night viewing is sorted for the next few weeks. This year the competition is going back-to-basics and whilst the challenges set may be easier, judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood have said that they are going to judge the bakes to the highest standards ever.
I have been a huge fan of the programme ever since it first came on our screens in 2010, finding it a rich source of baking inspiration. After watching the first episode, I’m delighted that this year looks as good as ever. In the opening challenge the contestants were tasked with making their version of a drizzle cake. Amongst the various offerings was a Gin & Tonic Drizzle Cake but unfortunately the judges weren’t too keen on it as its baker Tom was a little heavy-handed with the alcohol.
Here is my interpretation of that cake but flavoured with a syrup made with gin so that most of the alcohol burns off but the flavours remain. I have baked the cake in a plain bundt tin but a 900g (2lb) tin will also work and I have topped the cake with citrus crisps made from thinly sliced lemons and limes.
Citrus Crisps:
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 limes, thinly sliced
Icing sugar for dusting
250g butter, softened
250g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly whisked
250g self-raising flour, sifted
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
100ml tonic water
Gin & Tonic Syrup:
125ml gin
Juice of 1 lemon
150ml tonic water
100g caster sugar
150g icing sugar
2 tblsp gin
Citrus Crisps:
  1. Preheat oven to 80C/Fan Oven 60C/Gas Mark ¼. Place the lemon and lime slices spaced apart onto a silicon mat. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  2. Remove from the oven. Turn the slices over and dust with icing sugar. Return to the oven for a further 20-30 minutes until crisp but don’t allow to brown too much.
  3. Dust with more icing sugar and allow to cool. The crisps can be made in advance and stored in an air-tight container.
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Grease a plain 23cm bundt tin with butter and dust with self-raising flour - shaking out any excess - and set aside.
  2. Place the butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and cream together using a hand-held electric mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add in the milk, mixing well after each addition.
  3. Add the sifted flour and fold in along with the finely grated citrus zests. Finally mix in the tonic water to create a soft batter.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing out the surface a little and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until a thin skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.
  1. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan over a low heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then increase the heat to high. Simmer for 8-10 minutes until reduced by half. Remove from the heat and set aside for a few minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, using  a thin skewer, poke holes all over the top of the still-warm cake and then carefully spoon over the syrup allowing into soak into the cake. Allow to cool completely.
  1. Mix the icing sugar and gin together in a small bowl to achieve a pouring consistency. Spoon this over the cake, letting it drizzle down the edges of the cake. Let the icing set a little and then decorate the top of the cake with the citrus crisps.
Serves 10-12.