Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Saturday Snacking at Swirly Whirlys

At the weekend the hubby and I managed to get a very rare entire day together and we spent it visiting various small Cheshire towns including taking in the Tarporley Country Market.  We met some lovely traders who all produce their goods locally and sampled amazing cheeses by Mrs Bourne's Cheshire Cheese as well as some unique golden brie from Tiresford Guernsey Gold.

After a good look round the beautiful town we moved on to Nantwich where our stomachs led us to seek out a cafe for a mid afternoon snack.  There are many tea rooms in Nantwich, both independents and well known chains but one in particular caught our eye.  Swirly Whirlys Coffee Shop and Creperie has an inviting exterior and with the magic word 'crepe' calling us over we didn't need asking twice.  Inside turned out to be even nicer with a lovely quirky feel, clean, bright decoration, gifts and homewares scattered around for sale and (most brilliantly of all) copies of the Beano comic placed under the glass table tops.

Eating here turned out to be a brilliant decision as not only is this cafe run for an exceptionally good cause with proceeds going to St Luke's Hospice, there's no compromise on the quality of the food and drink on offer either.  As we arrived a little late in the day they were all out of scones so I couldn't have the chosen cream tea but the carrot cake I opted for instead was absolutely delicious.  It was moist and crumbly with just the right amount of icing and the wedge was a good size, not stingy and not overwhelming.

Hubby is a huge fan of crepes and chose one with banana, toffee sauce and clotted cream on the side.  He was very impressed with the size of it.  So often cafes seem to get your hopes up with their descriptions of large crepes loaded with toppings then let you down with something weedy and stingy but this definitely wasn't the case here.  The large crepe was folded with banana inside and extra on the side, a good dollop of delicious clotted cream and plenty of sauce on top.  Happy hubby.

We shared a large pot of tea served in a proper teapot and with proper cups and saucers.  Service was with a smile and everyone was warm and friendly so you really do get the impression that they're making a lot of effort here.  The people who work here care about what they're doing and the atmosphere is great.  Given the charitable nature of this coffee shop I think customers come in ready to be pleased too and for me it all works really well.

Upstairs there are many more gifts and trinkets for sale, both new and nearly new, but we didn't manage to venture up there this time.  I can see me visiting Swirly Whirlys many times in the future so next time I will make a point of going upstairs and I'll also try to take some photos to show you just how gorgeous it all is.  In the meantime if you're ever in the area I highly recommend you check it out for yourself.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Vanilla Ice Cream - Michel Roux Desserts Challenge Recipes 1 and 2

For my very first recipe in my personal challenge to bake my way through the Michel Roux Desserts cookbook I randomly selected vanilla ice cream.  I've never made ice cream before and there was no particular reason for starting here other than I had some egg yolks that had been separated from their whites and some double cream in the fridge, both of which needed a good home.  Happily making the ice cream meant ticking two recipes off in one as you start by making crème anglaise, another first for me.  Ready?  Off we go.

milk sugar vanilla pod
I began by placing my milk, sugar and vanilla pod in a pan on a medium heat to slowly bring it to the boil.  For the umpteenth time I dreamed of a nice, flexible gas hob instead of the cruddy electric one I'm stuck with in this flat.  I already boiled a pan of milk over last week and didn't fancy a repeat.  With one mistrustful eye on my pan of milk mixture I began to work on my eggs.

I put the yolks in a large glass bowl with the rest of the sugar and began to whisk by hand.  This in itself is a novelty as I almost exclusively use a handheld mixer but I wanted it to be authentic and all the proper chefs use a metal whisk*

*in my head they do, whether this is true or not I don't know

eggs sugar whisking
The recipe says to whisk until the mixture goes pale and has a ribbon like consistency.  I was really pleased when it got noticeably paler and kept going, swapping hands occasionally to give my underused arm muscles a rest.  See baking properly makes you fit as well!  I kept lifting the whisk out to see if the eggs were looking ribbon like yet and couldn't make my mind up but as my milk wasn't boiling yet I kept going a bit longer.

egg ribbons

Eventually I felt happy that I had ribbons and also that the eggs had gone a little paler again and turned my attention back to the milk.  It wasn't boiling yet so I daringly turned the heat up a notch and stirred it constantly to distribute the heat evenly and make sure it wouldn't suddenly boil.  It started to bubble very gently at the edges and the vanilla seeds had broken free of the pod giving that lovely speckly appearance that only real vanilla produces.  Heaven already.

milk sugar vanilla
When it was on the cusp of proper boiling I whipped the pan off the hob and poured the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking constantly.  I made sure it was all well combined with the whisk and then returned it to the pan.  In the meantime I'd turned the heat on the hob down to low and now I continued to cook my crème anglaise, stirring it all the time with a wooden spoon and making sure that it didn't boil.

The recipe said to do this until the crème anglaise thickened a little but didn't give an indication of how long this would take.  I felt that my crème anglaise had thickened a bit pretty much immediately but I was sure it was supposed to be cooked longer than this and become a bit thicker still so I kept going.  After about 6 or 7 minutes I thought it was done so I removed it from the heat and poured it into a glass bowl to cool.  I placed this bowl in another bowl with ice in it to speed up the cooling process and stirred it periodically as instructed to stop a skin from forming.  By this point my kitchen smelt like a little corner of heaven.  Is there anything more divine than the aroma of vanilla?  It's a good job I didn't have a crumble or pie anywhere near or we might have got no further and crème anglaise would have simply disappeared as it was.

cooling creme anglaise

Once the crème anglaise was cool I removed the vanilla pod, added the double cream and stirred it well through.  The recipe calls for an ice cream maker but I don't own one so I had to resort to the freezing and whisking method.  I put the mixture in a plastic tub and froze it for half an hour before whisking it with a fork.  I repeated this after another hour and then again after a further hour before leaving it for a final proper freeze overnight.

vanilla ice cream

Each time I whisked the ice cream I took great pleasure in licking the fork afterwards (don't worry I used a clean one each time) getting the tiniest taster of the amazing flavour I had managed to create.  I really was so impressed at the succulent richness of the ice cream and it was obvious that the high quality vanilla pod I used was shining through in all its glory.  Even before it was frozen I was planning dinner parties in my head where I could show off my amazing home made ice cream and receive the wondrous adulation of my most food critical friends.  Yes, yes I know.  Get over yourself Amy, you're only following someone else's recipe, the credit really belongs to Michel Roux.

frozen vanilla ice cream

So what of the finished product?  Well it is BEAUTIFUL.  This ice cream is rich and decadent - the sort where you only want one or two scoops and you savour it slowly, enjoying the smooth, creamy texture and the deep, rich flavour.  To throw large quantities down your throat in a rush would be insulting to the quality and depth of it, it deserves to be appreciated fully.  It's important to use a really good vanilla pod for this and not just an extract or essence.  The flavour would be lacking and a bit of a waste of your efforts considering it does take quite some time to make.  It's been said time and time again in baking that it's important to use high quality ingredients and this is even more true when there are so few of them.

homemade vanilla ice cream
I think it would be fair to say that the texture is likely to be better using an ice cream maker instead of freezing and whisking repeatedly.  Now that I have had such encouraging results from my first attempt my head is full of ice cream ideas and I would definitely consider buying a proper maker when I have more storage space.  It simply isn't possible right now.  I won't let this stop me in the meantime though, the alternative method is certainly good enough to get delectable results and I'm absolutely delighted with my first two recipes of the challenge.