Foraged Pear & Chestnut Tart

Pear and chestnut tart

It has been a month of mixed emotions. September coming to an end and October beginning, bringing with it falling leaves and damp paving stones, musty smokey air and fresh mornings, we are truly in autumn now and although the loss of summer leaves a sadness, I can’t deny my love of this new season. Whenever I’m asked which season is my favourite there’s always a moment of pondering, as each new “era” brings something exciting and special. But I do love the transitional seasons most of all – the spring: when you’ve come through the barren cold of winter with its Christmassy excitement and cosy fires and have long dreamy summers ahead with lush grass and seaside walks, and in the meantime the flowers are coming back to life, the birds are returning and the prospect of Easter is eternally exciting. And autumn: with bonfires and woodland wanders, soups and toasted marshmallows and the necessary donning of extra layers which also mean you can eat more and no one knows … always a good thing.

But the step from summer to autumn hasn’t been the only change for me. My parents and I moved house recently, from a remote Cornish seaside spot to a busy Devonian town; from quiet, settled, solitude to fervent, active, bustling busyness. And I’m not sad to leave because this marks a new – and hopefully exciting – chapter for us all, but Clemmie and I will miss the sea.

pear and chestnut pieChestnut pie recipe

Any of you following my blog or Twitter will know that I am a fervent forager, that I delight in not only finding food for free but in saving it from otherwise certain rot, that no matter how many apples/pears/chestnuts I have I can’t say ‘no’ to a few more. And on top of this, with the move (and downsizing the freezer) I’ve been having to get through runner beans, a large crop of prematurely harvested onions, and a multitude of hard little cooking pears from our rambunctious tree at the old house. It’s been a challenge and there never seem to be enough jars but I love a culinary combat and this one has been between me and the perishables.

So when the parents went off to France last week for a much needed break I had free run of the kitchen to get to work. I could stink it out with as much vinegar in the chutneys and burnt sugar from the jams as I liked; I could spread my peelings and shellings and corings all over the place with no-one looking on with dismayed disapproval. And on our new and exciting exploratory walks Clemmie and I also came back with more delights to tackle: sweet chestnuts. Beautiful, shiny little brown nuggets that reveal the most creamy flesh beneath – delicious on their own but super in many baked goods too. And when you’ve got pears that need using up there’s no way you’re not going to try and combine the two somehow. So that’s what I did.

Oh, and the parents brought back a few more chestnuts from France. I think they only did it to trump mine because they were HUGE, but I’m proud to say I found some equally big ones the next day. Smug.

chestnut variations

Chestnuts in a dish are not usually noticeable for their flavour so the addition of almond or vanilla, cinnamon or orange is necessary. But don’t consider it a waste of good chestnuts to put them somewhere where you can no longer taste them – they add to the texture with their soft, smoothness and there is a slightly perceptible nuttiness below the surface. And if, like me, you’ve collected more than you know what to do with you’ll be glad of any excuse to use them up. Just make sure you save a few to roast on the fire when the cold really kicks in.

This is a twist on an almond frangipane. The chestnut paste sinks to the bottom to create a thick, delectable filling whilst a thin custardy layer sets on top in which the pears sit. It’s simply perfect.

Pear tart

Ingredients

For the pastry

175g brown four (or 1/2 wholemeal, 1/2 white)

50g icing sugar

100g butter, slightly softened

For the filling

Approx. 5 small, firm pears (450-500g total) – mine were cooking pears. You can use dessert pears.

75g granulated sugar

Approx. 350g unpeeled/225g peeled chestnuts

50g wholemeal flour

250g butter, softened

250g caster sugar (or 1/2 caster, 1/2 light brown)

3 eggs

1 tsp almond OR vanilla extract

Sweet chestnut recipe

Have an 28cm/11 inch loose-based shallow tart tin ready.

Begin by making the pastry. Place the flour(s) in a bowl with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Add the butter and rub it in using your fingertips until the dough clumps together. Add a dash of cold water and bring the mixture together into a ball.

Flour your work surface and pastry ball and roll out to a fairly thin round, larger than the diameter of the tin. Flour the rolling pin well and loosely roll the pastry up around the pin. Lift it over the tart tin and unroll the pastry over the tin, allowing a bit of “give” so that it falls into the base and hangs over the edges too. Once the pastry is off the rolling pin carefully push it in to fit the shape of the tin and up the sides. Leave a slight overhang and press this down on the outside of the tin.

Brown sweet pastry recipe

Line the pastry with baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C degrees fan (200C degrees conventional oven) for 12 minutes, remove the beans and paper and bake for a further 4 minutes. Set aside.

Turn the oven down to 160C degrees fan (180C degrees conventional).

Meanwhile prepare the pears.

Hard pears recipe

Peel the pears, cut into quarters and core them. Place them in a pan with water just to cover. Add the sugar and bring to the boil on the stove. Place the lid on the pan and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until softened. Test using a sharp knife, which should pierce the flesh easily when they are cooked enough (if using softer pears, or dessert pears, they may only need 5-10 minutes).

Remove the pears from the water and leave to cool before slicing them at a slight angle (see picture).

Poached pear recipeHow to cook sweet chestnuts

Next prepare the filling.

Mark a cross in the shell of each chestnut and place about 10 in a microwaveable pot. Fill the pot with enough water to cover and microwave for about 2-3 minutes until the water is boiling and the crosses on the chestnuts are beginning to peel back. Leave the nuts in the water as they are easiest to peel when hot, and take one out at a time. Peel off the shell and as much of the film-like skin beneath as possible, but leaving some of this on is fine. Once you’ve finished the first 10 chestnuts, repeat the process with another 10 and so on until all are cooked. This can also be done in  a pan on the stove.

Microwave chestnuts

Place the peeled chestnuts in a food processor and blend until they are as fine as possible. They may not become very fine and will begin to clump together. At this point add the wholemeal flour. This helps to dry the mixture and enables you to grind it down more finely. Grind for another 30-60 seconds until a finer mixture is achieved, but you may not be able to make a flour-like texture. Remove this to a bowl.

In the same food processor, blend the butter and sugar until smooth and well combined. Add the eggs and blend again. Scrape down the sides and tip in the ground chestnuts and the almond/vanilla extract. Blend for a good minute as this makes the mixture much smoother and very creamy.

Pear frangipane tart recipeSweet chestnut recipesPear frangipane bakwell

Tip the chestnut filling into the pastry case and place the pears on top. I originally fanned them out (see picture) but then dotted more all over to make it extra pear-y. This worked well as the pattern was lost anyway when the pears sank a bit in cooking.

Carefully place the tart back into the oven and bake for about 50 minutes. Until just set and golden brown on top. Check on it after 30 minutes, turn it around if needed, check for the wobble and adjust the temperature if it seems to be cooking too quickly.

Leave to cool until just warm before dusting with icing sugar and serving. It’s delicious with a dollop of crème fraîche.

Autumn pie recipePear frangipane recipeSeasonal pear pie recipe

Asparagus, Poached egg, Hollandaise sauce

Elegant dinner party recipe

I like a minimalist dish. Three elements, two of which are dead easy and the third providing enough of a challenge to make me feel I’ve actually put some effort into creating a meal. Hollandaise isn’t as much of a monster as the chefs might make out but there is definitely room for error and it makes sense to go at it with care rather than recklessness. I suppose that’s the approach to take with most things that could prove to be a little tricky: better to be cautious and correct than gung-ho and wrong. It’s lovely when you become familiar with a dish and no longer need to fish out the recipe every time, carefully weighing and measuring and still hoping for the best. It’s a bit like discovering a new footpath. You could have found the most beautiful country lane with buttercups and riverside meanderings and not too much uphill trekking, but there’s just a possibility that there will be little or no signposting, cows that hurl themselves across the field after you and a dead end after 40 minutes walking so you have to turn around and go back the way you came. Hollandaise is neither of these. Hollandaise is a slightly tricky orienteering challenge with the guarantee that there is a satisfactory outcome so long as you follow the map.

Lemon Hollandaise recipe

The nice thing about this dish is that you can make the Hollandaise first then set it aside. There’s no keeping warm to be done, or last minute emulsifying. Make it perfectly then get on with the other two elements.

This is the final part of the mixed fish & beetroot platter I’ve been building over the last few months (all the steps with links are at the bottom of the post). If you do the whole thing then believe me, the prospect of doing Hollandaise won’t be the most daunting thing on the menu … there’s quite a lot to do! But it is well worth it for a special occasion or just if you’re feeling a bit cheffy. Let me know how it goes if you do attempt it!

Wow that sounds patronising. You’re probably a much better cook than me. I’ll shut up and just give you the recipe.

 Hollandaise with poached egg recipe

For 2-4 people

Ingredients

For the Hollandaise

150g butter

3 eggs, yolks only

1/2 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 lemon, juiced

For the rest

300g young asparagus

2-4 eggs (1 or 2 each, depending on portion size)

Freshly ground black pepper

How to make Hollandaise sauce

Begin by making the Hollandaise. There are 3 initial steps:

1. Place the egg yolks, mustard and lemon juice into a heat proof bowl.

2. Separately, bring a small pan of water to the boil. This pan should be small enough for the bowl with egg yolks in it to sit on top without touching the water.

3. Place the butter in another pan.

Now there are 4 more steps:

4. With electric beaters, beat together the egg yolks, mustard and lemon juice until thickened and pale. They will increase in volume.

5. Set the eggs aside and gently melt the butter until foaming but not browned.

6. While the butter melts place the bowl with the beaten egg in over the saucepan of just simmering water. Continue to beat with the electric beaters. *Be really careful not to boil the water too hard and to keep the eggs moving so they don’t scramble*

7. Carefully drizzle in the melted butter, beating all the time.

And you’re done! The sauce should have thickened and emulsified. Remove the sauce bowl from the heat, turn everything off, season to taste, cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming and set aside. Ideally you would keep it in a warmish place so it doesn’t cool too much, causing it to thicken further.

Asparagus Hollandaise egg

Asparagus recipe

For the asparagus, bring a small pan of lightly salted water to the boil. Trim the asparagus tips so that they are about 10cm in length. As these are young asparagus you can keep the ends as they shouldn’t be woody. Save them for another meal or make a soup. Drop the tips into the boiling water, replace the lid and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain immediately and place into a bowl of ice cold water to stop the tips from cooking and to retain the vibrant green colour. Set aside.

Asparagus recipe

For the poached eggs, bring another small pan of water to the boil. It should be fairly shallow, just enough for the unshelled eggs to sit in without being exposed. When simmering break the eggs into the water, one at a time and as close to the surface as possible. Try not to let the white come away from the yolk. Leave to simmer, lid off, for about 2-3 minutes until just cooked. The white should have turned opaque and the yolk will be orangey beneath the surface – not pale yellow as that indicates it has been overcooked. With a slotted spoon carefully lift the eggs from the water and, as with the asparagus, place into a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process.

If you aren’t going through the whole caboodle of beetroot purées and rye bread you might want to serve your asparagus on a bagel or toasted ciabatta, maybe with a layer of cream cheese or a thick swipe of butter … *starts drooling* … Place the cooled, blanched asparagus in a neat layer on whatever base you choose, carefully position the poached egg on top and then drizzle the Hollandaise recklessly over – everything else has been so precise you may as well go crazy with the drizzling.

A grind of black pepper and you’re done!

Salmon, trout, prawn recipe

Other steps …

Elegant fish dish for dinner party
1. Beetroot and fennel purée

Fish dinner party meal
2. Spinach mousse prawn cocktail

Smoked fish salad with fennel & potato
3. Smoked trout and baby leaf salad with lemon vinaigrette

Smoked salmon on rye
4. Seeded rye bread with smoked salmon

Rye bread with smoked salmon

Rye bread recipe

I’m sorry folks but I’m feeling totally uninspired. You must have had times where you’ve tried to write something and found yourself deleting it time and time again, just unable to get it right? This introduction is doing that for me: one effort even saw me blaming the eponymous bread for all my woes and vowing I’d never bake again … sorry bread.

It was actually a very satisfactory recipe: a dark, dense, treacly loaf that required no starter and was perfect when thinly sliced, buttered and topped with smoked salmon. With its seeded crunch and rich flavour, I’d say it’s a pleasing little loaf. I don’t hate it really, it’s just been difficult to blog about. Maybe I’ve developed some subconscious mental block against it? Maybe there’s just not very much to say about bread. No! Surely not?! Just me then …

Seeded bread recipe

This recipe is not for your usual light and airy tin loaf so don’t expect it to rise very much, and due to the high quantity of low-gluten rye flour it is a little tricky to knead and to get a stretch in the dough (the windowpane test probably won’t work). It’s also a dark loaf so being able to tell when it’s fully cooked is a little more tricky … I’m really making this tempting for you aren’t I? But honestly, all this is worth it, especially if you’re not a fan of making starter breads (which for some reason rye breads so often are) and are looking for a hearty, healthy, nutritious option in loaf form (and yummy. Of course it’s yummy. Don’t those other adjectives sound dull?).

So, with suitably high expectations …

Seeded rye bread

Ingredients

150g wholemeal bread flour

250g rye flour

125g sunflower seeds

50g poppy seeds

1 tsp fast action instant yeast

1 flat tsp salt

1 tbsp black treacle

150ml milk

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp olive oil (dark or light)

Topping

Smoked salmon

Fresh lemon juice

Cracked black pepper

Grease 1 or 2 loaf tins (1.5litre/2lb) with a little oil and set aside (I used 2 but you may want a deeper loaf. Other sizes can of course be used but may affect the length of cooking time).

Combine the flours, seeds, yeast and salt in a bowl.

Put the black treacle into a measuring just and add 75ml boiling water. Stir to melt the treacle. Top up with the milk, lemon juice and olive oil.

Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and stir to combine. At this stage add enough tepid water to bring the dough together to form a slightly sticky consistency.

Tip the dough onto a work surface and knead as best you can for 5-10 minutes. It will tear easily but the texture should improve as you knead it.

Seeded wholemeal rye bread

Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to rest in a warm place for about 2-3 hours or until risen (overnight is fine).

When risen, briefly shape the dough and place into the greased tin(s). Re-cover with the tea towel and leave in a warm place to rise again. As before, it may not rise a huge amount but give it a few hours for the yeast to work. If you leave it in a cool place this prove can be done overnight.

When ready to cook preheat the oven to 180 C degrees fan (200 C degrees conventional oven) and cook the bread for 15 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 130 C fan (150 C conventional) and cook for a further 15-30 minutes (a deeper loaf will need the longer amount of time). The bread will be darker when cooked and will feel solid with a hard base. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Rye bread

This bread is best served in thin slices with your choice of topping. I simply buttered it and topped with smoked salmon slices, a squeeze of lemon juice and some cracked black pepper.

I love you bread. Really I do.

Smoked salmon on rye

Nutty Spiced Apple Granola

Apple nut granola recipe

I swear I’m like some kind of fruit magpie at this time of year. I walk around the place, my little dog in tow, and my eye is darting madly back and forth like a crazed sugar addict, scanning the surroundings for a sign of wild fruity goodness. There are the blackberries of course, which are EVERYWHERE right now and our walks are about twice as long because I have to stop and pick them all (Clemmie is very patient). But far more exciting – possibly because it yields about 10 times more fruit for equal amounts of labour – are the apples.

Apple pie granola recipe

Having lived in a house without a fruiting apple tree for the last 5 years I have become quite adept at seeking my hits elsewhere and there are several prolific, gnarly beasts on the coastline to which I gravitate each year. Where are they? I’m telling no one. They’re mine.

The problem is that we are currently in the process of moving house and our new abode has a very merry plant upon which many a ripe apple can be found. I harvest these, I have about 4 buckets full, and still my gaze returns to the trees by the sea. I mean, if I don’t divest them of their produce, who will?? Will it go to waste?? Surely ’tis better that we have more than we know what to do with that those golden gems fall and rot, never to be tasted, their short lives spent?

OK, so I’ve become a little poetically melodramatic, but I have a passion for this subject.

And now I have far too much fruit.

Too many apples recipe

Thankfully I am not alone in this department and Google revealed many others who have had their fill of stewed apple and are now looking for different ways to get their highs. I had a few ideas and the search results validated these. A little help from Jennifer’s Kitchen for the apple-drying-process and Nigella, D. Lebovitz + Sally’s Baking Addiction for the quantities in the granola, and I had a hit recipe on my hands. A lightly spiced, fruity, nutty mix which is reminiscent of apple pie.

Cinnamon apple granola

It’s pretty healthy for granola, super yummy and boy does it make all that apple prep worth it.

Note 1 – If you want to make your own dried apples try the recipe from Jennifer’s Kitchen above. I oven dried mine which took AGES as I cut them thickly but it worked well. I also didn’t dunk them in enough lemon juice so if you want whiter slices than mine, do that! Finally it’s worth noting that I used cooking apples which are GORGEOUS dried – tangy but not too sharp. Perfect in the sweet granola.

Dried apple recipeDried apple cereal

Note 2 – Apple purée’s a cinch to make. Ideally use cooking apples for texture, but eaters usually work OK too although they may need blending with a machine to mush them down once cooked. Peel and core the apples, removing any bad bits. Place in a pan with a little water and granulated sugar and stew on a medium heat. Stir occasionally to stop them burning and turn off the heat when you have a mush with some yummy lumps remaining. Stir in more sugar if needed. Doesn’t  take long at all.

Fruit and nut granola

Ingredients

Handful or two of dried apples (if doing your own in the oven you need to do this well in advance as you’ll need the oven for your granola. See Note 1 above.)

Dry ingredients

125g quick (porridge) oats

150g jumbo oats

75g dry uncooked quinoa

50g raw whole almonds, roughly sliced

50g raw whole hazelnuts, roughly chopped

75g raw pumpkin seeds

75g raw sunflower seeds

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp nutmeg

Wet ingredients

75g coconut oil/vegetable oil (I used a mixture but either will do)

175g syrup (I used golden but you can use maple if you prefer)

50g dark brown sugar

225g lightly sweetened apple compôte (mine had some lumps but wasn’t really chunky. See Note 2 above.)

Seed oat nut quinoa recipe

In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly.

Place all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl EXCEPT for the apple compôte and microwave for 1-2 minutes until the coconut oil has melted. Alternatively heat in a pan, stirring regularly so it doesn’t burn.

Spiced apple granola

Stir in the apple compôte and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ones (don’t add the dried apple yet though) and make sure the mixture is thoroughly blended.

Fruit and nut granola

Spread it out onto one or two baking sheets. I lined mine with non-stick baking sheets.

Bake in a preheated oven  at 160 C degrees fan (180 C degrees conventional oven) for about 45 minutes. It is likely to brown unevenly so make sure you gently stir it up every 10-15 minutes to stop the edges burning. Try not to break up too many of the chunks when doing this.

Granola recipe

It should be darker when finished but not too brown, and bear in mind that it will also be soft straight from the oven but it will crisp up on cooling, so don’t be tempted to cook it further. Set the tray(s) aside on cooling racks and leave uncovered to cool.

When cold, chop the dried apple into small pieces and stir into the granola. If you made your own dried apple then make sure you only add totally dry pieces to your cereal as slices retaining moisture may make your granola soft. You may want to keep the dried apple separate and add it to each serving just before you eat it. If you do find the granola looses crispness then re-toast it for 5-10 minutes in a hot oven.

Recipe using dried appleCoconut oil, apple, nuts

Store in an airtight container and enjoy it with yoghurt, milk, or even more apple purée (if you can take it).

Oh, and I had a reason other than apples to make this: I just bought a cereal container which I absolutely HAD to use straightaway. My life is full of excitement.

Home made granola recipe

Update: I found this lost its crunch after a few days (about 3). If this happens to you do what I did: Pour it back onto a baking sheet, dried apple and all, and bake it on a high temperature (about 200 C degrees fan) for 10-15 minutes . Leave it to cool then store again in an airtight container and you should find it stays crisp for ages.

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