Sister Mary Custard

09 Sep 2015

custard3

I can recall my first glorious taste of custard on this side of the pond. I was in the maternity hospital the day after Geoffrey was born and a nurse delivered a dainty bowl of stewed apple (i.e. applesauce) topped with warm custard after lunch. This was the nurse that insisted on calling me “princess,” and not the nurse who told me they don’t call it labor for nothing! as I tossed and turned, moaning in excruciating pain on my wrought iron hospital bed the night before.

I didn’t know what to expect when I was admitted to the hospital nearly 8 weeks prior to my due date with Geoffrey. I think I was in such a state of shock that my entire being just switched over to autopilot after my water broke (note: broke is by far an understatement, gushing would be more accurate) that fateful morning. You could say, I just went with the flow, and before I knew it we had a bouncing baby boy weighing in at just over 2kg, a wee bit larger than one of our free-range chickens. Thankfully, despite being such a little mite, he was hale and hearty and after 10 days in neonatal we got to take him home.

hen In Ireland, there are specific hospitals for pregnant women and their gynecological concerns. This is reassuring in a way; it’s nice to know you are in a place that has a focus and expertise on your specific lady bits. But, many are still ruled by Catholic nuns, so if the idea of having a nurse named Sister Mary looking after you is a bit intimidating, you may want to book your delivery into one of those 5-star American spa-style birthing suites complete with a private chef and a manicure before induction.

The offering of that much welcomed postpartum dessert made me feel comforted and cared for in my fragile state that afternoon. And, ever since, I have had an affinity for all things custard and the warmth and nurturing it always seems to bring to our table.

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Sister Mary Custard
Custard is a bit of a national treasure in Ireland. It is served as a comforting dessert throughout the year and is easy to prepare. Of course, we use dairy from the farm so it’s super wholesome, but any good quality milk and cream will create the same cosy, creamy topping. Perfect for autumn orchard crumbles, tarts or just plain stewed or roasted fruits.

Serves 6

570ml/1 pint milk
55ml/2fl oz heavy cream
1 vanilla pod or 1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract
4 eggs, yolks only
30g/1oz caster sugar
2 level tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

1. Bring the milk, cream and vanilla pod to simmering point slowly over a low heat.
2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly
3. Remove the vanilla pod (wash the vanilla pod, dry and store in jar with caster sugar to make vanilla sugar).
4. Whisk the yolks, sugar and cornflour together in a bowl until well blended.
5. Pour the milk and cream on to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time with a balloon whisk.
6. Return to the pan,(add vanilla extract if using) and over a low heat gently stir with a wooden spatula until thickened.
7. Pour the custard into a jug and serve at once.
Scullery Notes: To keep hot, stand the jug in a pan of hot water and cover the top with cling film to prevent skin from forming.

Orchard Apple Crumble (with optional Fine Fettle Farmette version)
Every autumn we have buckets of apples, pears, and plums from the orchard. I usually core, peel and slice many of the baking apples and freeze so that we have plenty for apple tarts and crumbles throughout the year. This is one of my favorite recipes, the filling is sweetened with our honey and I use a fair bit of vanilla and spice to take down the tartness of the Bramley apples. 

Serves 6

150g/ 1 ¼ cup almond flour (ground almonds)
150g/ 1 ¼ cup organic oat flakes (oatmeal)
175g/ scant 1 cup light brown sugar
200g/ 1 ¾ cup cold butter, cut into pieces
For the filling:
600g/ 4 ½ cups apple, cored and cut into chunks
60g/ scant 3 tbsp honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp cinnamon
Seeds from ½ vanilla bean pod

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)
2. Place the flour, oat flakes, brown sugar and butter in a large bowl.
3. Using your fingertips, rub all the ingredients together until it resembles chunky breadcrumbs.
4. In a large baking tin, toss the apples with the honey, lemon juice and spices until combined.
5. Add the crumble mix on top of the filling and spread over the top until everything is evenly covered.
6. Bake in the oven for 35–40 minutes or until the crumble topping is golden brown and the fruit is soft and bubbling beneath.
7. Serve in generous portions with heaps of Sister Mary Custard.
Scullery Notes: For a fine fettle farmette version, you can adapt this recipe to be gluten and dairy-free. Just make sure to use gluten-free oatmeal and substitute coconut butter for dairy butter.

Photos and styling by Imen McDonnell 2105.

The winners of the Cheerz polaroids are: Heather McGlaughlin and Natalie from An American in Rome! Check you email for your Cheerz freebie code! 

Slan Abhaile,

Imen x

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“Hold on, hold on, hold on…let me go and see, I know there is one tree out there with sweet fruit on it.” My father-in-law pulled on his wellies and rushed out the kitchen door to what Geoffrey and I like to privately call the baby orchard.

I had ambled in moments earlier after checking the gooseberries and black currants (sadly, very sparse this year) along with the young apple, pear and plum trees that he and Peggy planted about six years ago only steps from the scullery.

When I explained that I noticed one tree with a gang of green plums and wondered out loud if they were Greengages, Michael scratched his head and told me he couldn’t be sure, “Peggy wrote the names of all those new trees down when we planted them, but I can’t recall where that list might be now.” These are things you don’t think a second about until someone is gone and you can’t ask them anymore.

He just wanted to get to the sweet. Who cared about those sour green plums. We needed to plunge into a sugary candy-like plum, like the ones he and Geoffrey shared the week before. I couldn’t shake the subtle hint of metaphor between sweetness and sorrow.

cake

Michael came back into the kitchen with one piece of deep purple fruit, opened the cupboard and pulled three more from a brown paper bag. We stood in front of the kitchen sink eating those perfect plums. No words, just the sounds of bite-slurping into the fleshy fruits followed by the telltale mmmm’s and ahhh’s of pure taste ambrosia. When we finished our impromtu picnic, I thanked Michael and he suggested that I head out to the back orchard to check on the older fruit trees.

overheadjam

 

This “old” orchard, which dates back about one hundred years, was heaving with ripe fruit. When I say heaving, this is partially due to the tremendous storm earlier this year that downed several large beech trees and blew over the fruit trees with such a vengeance that they mostly now look more like arched Espaliers than Bramleys; the whole scene suggestive of a fine Dr. Seuss story.

I filled a basket with plums, most of them ripe, and a few with a way to go. And, in the spirit of summer fruits, this sweet surprise was born.

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Orchard Plum + Black Currant Madeira Cake with Mascarpone-Cassis Icing

Madeira Cake did not originate in the Madeira Islands, rather from the Portuguese Madeira wine that would have traditionally been served with this tea cake in Ireland and the UK many years ago. This wildly popular (and, once new-to-me), beautifully buttery, dense cake is normally prepared with just a touch of lemon zest, but I’ve pushed the limits and made it rich with summer fruits, balanced with a creamy mascarpone, cassis-spiked icing. I added black currant jam and a touch of smoked sea salt to the frosting, which is lovely, but definitely optional and not necessary if you prefer a less profound flavour profile. The pretty green plums in the photos were not used in the cake mix; sweet, ripe plums are a must for this recipe. You could cut the recipe in half and leave out the layers + icing altogether for a simple summer fruit Madeira. 

Ingredients
350g/12oz butter, at room temperature
350g/12oz caster sugar
6 free-range eggs
500g/18oz self-raising flour
6 tbsp milk
300g/10 oz peeled, pitted, thinly sliced sweet plums
200g black currant conserve
Method
1. Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease two 18cm/7in round cake tins, line the base with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture well between each one and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to prevent the mixture from curdling.
3. Sift the flour and gently fold in, with enough milk to give a mixture that falls slowly from the spoon. Fold in the sliced plums.
4. Spoon the mixture equally into the prepared tins and lightly level the tops. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.
6. Level out each cake layer with a serrated cake knife so that they easily lay flat on top of one another.
7. Spread a thick layer of black currant conserve on top of bottom cake layer.

Cassis-Mascarpone Icing
Ingredients
450g/1lb mascarpone cheese, softened
350g/12oz unsalted butter, softened
450g/1lb confectioners’ sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp. oak-smoked sea salt (optional)
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3-4 tbsp crème de cassis
1 tbsp black currant conserve (optional)
Method
1.In a large bowl, beat the mascarpone and butter with the mixer on medium speed until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.
2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla, crème de cassis, optional sea salt and black currant conserve and beat on medium high until blended and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
3. Cover the frosting and set aside at room temperature until ready to frost cake.
4. Dab a bit of icing on the cake plate. Carefully set the bottom layer of cake (the piece with black currant conserve spread on top) down on the frosting. Sandwich second layer on top.
5. Using a metal spatula, evenly spread a thin layer (about 1/3 cup) of frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers. Refrigerate until the frosting is cold and firm, about 20 minutes. Spread the entire cake with the remaining frosting.
6. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days. This cake is best served slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Recipe, Photos and Styling by Imen McDonnell 2014

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Last weekend Geoffrey and I picked all of the apples and pears at our little farm orchard. All I could think about was apple dumplings. Some people have visions of sugar plums. I dream of apple dumplings.  Apple dumplings are pastry wrapped baked apples. They are perfect for using up apples that don’t shine up all prim and purty…which was basically nearly all of ours this year.

I suppose it is fairly safe to say that cooking has officially consumed me. I am sure this has come as quite a shock to those who knew me B.F. (before farm)…aka, the incessant diner-outer who was better known for raiding craft services tables on production than crafting her own cider.  I categorically cherished good food; as long as someone else was preparing it. This evolution has been most surprising to me, but as I’ve come to realize, knowing how to cook and bake is absolutely essential to farm living. There is really no other option. We simply do not have the convenience of time or location to eat outside of our kitchen on a regular basis  ever. What we have is the space and potential to grow and prepare most of our own food. And so, this is what we endeavour to do. {However, a dirty dinner at The Spotted Pig wouldn’t go astray}

Still, there can be clashes in the kitchen. For instance, pastry is persnickety. Dough in general. There is a science to it. When you do it right, it can be very rewarding. But, sometimes that reward doesn’t come as often as I’d like. Generally, there are only three ingredients. It should be easy. Though mostly it’s not. The pastry I used for these apple dumplings is the same one my mother-in-law uses for her apple tart. There is egg in it. If the temperature isn’t right, it falls apart and you stand there weeping into it. (alternatively, you can scream and bang the rolling pin onto countertop until dough flies everywhere. Satisfying, but cows will think you are crazy + there’s more mess to clean up)  It is imperative that you turn the disc of pastry round and round while you are rolling it or the edges crack and badda-bing, you’re done. One day, I shall master pastry….like the little blue choo that could….maybe it will be that chicken pot pie or perhaps a daring mille-feuille, but I will get there, promise.

Peggy’s buttery sweet pastry is perfection baked around an apple sprinkled with some autumn spices. It’s well worth the meltdown effort. And, having fresh honey and milk on hand to churn scoops of beautiful burnt honey ice cream doesn’t hurt either…

Irish Apple Dumplings

Peggy’s pastry

Juice from one lemon

6 medium cooking apples (Bramley’s work well)

55g or 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

50g or 1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cloves

Pinch kosher salt

30g or 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll into a large rectangle or square, about 1/8-inch thick.

Cut a piece of parchment paper into a 6-inch square. Using the parchment paper as a guide, cut out 6 total squares from the dough, gathering scraps and re-rolling as needed. Layer the dough on pieces of parchment paper and refrigerate while preparing the apples.

Preheat the oven to 230c/450f°.

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of ice water. Peel and core each apple and place in the lemon water to prevent browning.

To make the filling, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bottom of a square of dough with sugar mixture. Place an apple in the center of dough. Put one pat of butter in the core of the apple and sprinkle additional sugar mixture inside. Bring the four corners of dough up around the apple, pinching the edges to seal and folding over excess if necessary. Continue with all of the apples.

Arrange the apple dumplings in a baking dish, leaving about 1-inch of space between each apple. Bake until the crust begins to turn golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Burnt Honey Ice Cream

125ml or ½ cup honey

1 tsp cinnamon

500ml or 2 cups milk

250ml or 1 cup double (heavy) cream

Cook honey and cinnamon in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until dark coloured and smoking. Add 2 tbsp cold water and remove from heat immediately.

Heat milk and cream in a separate saucepan and bring almost to the boil. Gradually whisk in burnt honey + cinnamon and stir over low heat until mixture is combined. Do not boil. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and cool (overnight in refrigerator is ideal). Freeze mixture in an ice-cream machine and then place in freezer for 2-3 hours before serving. 

Happy Autumn.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos by Imen McDonnell 2012

 

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Cider House Rules

14 Oct 2011

For me, autumn has always brought a sense of new beginnings and a giddy anticipation for exciting things to come. A new season, another school year, the excitement of fresh weather holidays….and now on the farm, cutting the maize and baby calves on the horizon. Something in the air changes, the wild Irish wind swiftly begins to kick up the all the newly fallen crimson leaves and proceeds to fiercely scatter them about the garden. Invigorating.

Without fail, at this time of year, I find myself consumed with sentimental expat memories of visiting pumpkin patches and apple orchards on a crisp autumn afternoon. A very popular fall tradition across many parts of America is to venture out of the city to admire the new colour and eventually arrive at an apple farm, pumpkin patch, or combination of the two. These family farms are transformed into literal jubilees of fun from about mid September to November, offering apple picking, pumpkins of every shape and size, freshly-baked apple pies, crisps or cobblers, chargrilled apple sausages, hay rides, wood-fired pizzas, small farm animal feeding, and the absolute best: mugs of warm apple cider with fresh cider donuts on the side.

It was a yearly ritual for myself and family or friends to take at least one trip to a country orchard each October, usually on a Sunday after brunch and the papers.  For me, the best bit was always the cider and donuts. American-style apple cider is something I have not (yet) come across in Ireland. Far different from what we consider cider in Ireland, this cider is not an alcoholic beverage. Pure apple cider is a made by crushing and pressing apples into a dark, cloudy juice and is never homogenized or pasteurized so it is much unlike the pressed apple juices found at markets or shops. I’ve also enjoyed a mug of cider with mulling-style spices, which is delicious. Spiced or plain, warm or cold, the flavor is sensational.

Last weekend, my father-in-law began harvesting apples and pears from the small orchard at the farm. He brought in a good amount to share with us. He also said to help ourselves to more because there is an abundance this year. When I went out the have a look the following day, I was astounded at the amount of fruit on the trees.

My first thought was: let’s make apple cider! This way we can use a good bit of the produce and at the same time, I can share a wonderful American tradition with my family here in Ireland.

We did our research and found a small apple press, which has just arrived! So, hopefully by this time next week we will be sitting by the turf fire, sipping apple cider and nibbling on warm cider donuts.

And then, autumn will be complete.

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photo by Imen McDonnell

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