Irn bru sorbet for Burns night

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Irn bru may be one of those things you have to enjoy as a child – like marmite – to really develop a taste for it. Happily for me, I did, and in the right circumstances there’s little better than a cold, rusty orange, sweet, fizzy glass of it. It’s impossible to describe the taste. When I was growing up, the adverts told us it was “made from girders”, and that remains a good enough explanation for me.

I volunteered to help my niece (the macaroon niece) with a Burns supper she was working on. We chatted about mini macaroons and deep fried mars bars as the ideal follow up to the obligatory haggis, neeps and tatties, and then it came to me: irn bru sorbet! Perfectly combining the roles of palate cleanser and sugar hit, it seems like the obvious missing link between main course and dessert. No Burns supper need be deprived of this Scottish equivalent of the trou Normande ever again. It wouldn’t do any harm to add a slug of vodka to it, either.

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Recipe
This recipe is an adaptation of the wonderful Robin Weir’s (much more sophisticated) cider sorbet recipe. His brilliant book with Caroline Weir, Ice Creams, Sorbets and Gelati is my definitive guide to frozen desserts.

Ingredients
300ml cold water
200g sugar
600ml irn bru, chilled
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg white

Method
Dissolve the sugar in the cold water, stirring until there are no grains left. Measure out the chilled irn bru and combine with the sugar syrups lemon juice. Refrigerate, if it isn’t completely cold. Start the ice cream machine, and pour in the bright orange liquid. After about 10 minutes, when the mixture is beginning to freeze, take your egg white, very lightly break it up with a fork (don’t make it frothy), and add it to the mixture in the machine.

Continue churning until the sorbet is a light and fluffy snow. You will be amazed at how strongly it smells of irn bru! The sorbet gets paler and paler as it churns, ending up a pretty pale orange. If you want to retain the aggressive rusty hue of the original ‘bru, you could add some food colouring, but I don’t think this is essential.

Serve immediately. If keeping for later, pour straight into a clean plastic container, cover the surface with greaseproof or waxed paper, seal with a lid, and freeze. Depending how hard it is when fully frozen, allow to soften slightly in the fridge for 10-20 minutes before serving from the freezer.

Rediscovering the Mirliton – Charles Fourier’s favourite tart

 

IMG_7482When you read any of Charles Fourier’s utopian tracts you can’t help noticing what an important part sugar plays in his idea of the perfect world. He constantly refers delicious cakes, jams and sweets, and does it with such relish that it feels obvious that his future world, Harmony, was the perfect place for anyone – like him – with a very sweet tooth.

One of the cakes he mentions most often is the mirliton, and everyone who has written on Fourier’s theory of gastrosophy mentions them too, equally casually. But one day I asked myself – what exactly IS a mirliton? And where can I get one? In fact, why am I not eating one right now as an essential element in my research? I started to ask for them in bakeries all over Paris, and other towns I visited in the south, and made the not entirely original discovery that the best way to feel extremely foolish about your apparent lack of mastery of the French language is to ask a pâtissier about a cake he’s never heard of: rest assured that it’s never him, it’s you!

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It became clear that if I wanted this essential taste of Harmony in my life I had to find a recipe and make one myself. The Néo-physiologie du gout par ordre alphabétique, ou Dictionnaire général de la cuisine française ancienne et moderne (Paris: 1839) obliged, with not just one recipe, but a basic recipe and two variations. This in itself was very exciting, as one variation was for Mirlitons de Rouen and one for Mirlitons à la parisienne. If you have read about Charles Fourier’s formative years you will know that in 1789 he made his first trip to Paris, via Rouen, at the age of 18. Clearly this visit, at such a significant time in his own development and in the social and political history of France, had a major influence on the rest of his life, thought and writing. For me, it’s intriguing also to wonder if the mirliton was another significant yet somehow hidden discovery on that trip, and speculate that the lighter, puffier mirliton of the Parisian recipe only added to his enchantment with that city.

So, what are they like? I’d say, with Fourier, they are miraculous, and a true taste of paradise: fluffy, dainty, light as air, beautiful to look at, delicious to eat. Watching them through the oven door as they rise at unlikely speed to an impossible height completely explains their name – a non-edible mirliton being somewhere between a kazoo and one of those party blowers that hoots as it unfurls a long flat tongue when you blow into it. For every reason I reckon the mirliton, baked to be as light and sweet as Harmony demands it, is long overdue for a major comeback.

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RECIPE

Ingredients (for about 30)
4 eggs – 2 whole, 2 separated
120g (4 oz) icing sugar
90g (3 oz) meringues (hazelnut is very good) – crushed
½ tbsp orange flower water
pinch of salt
60g (2 oz) butter – melted
800g (1¾lb) fine puff pastry
Icing sugar and Demerara sugar for finishing

Equipment
Pastry moulds/tart tins 5cm wide and 2cm deep
Fluted pastry cutter 7cm diameter.

Method
Pre-heat oven to medium hot, 180°C-200°C / 350°F-400°F.

IMG_2372Melt the butter and allow it to cool. In a bowl mix together the two whole eggs and 2 egg yolks and stir in the icing sugar, crushed nut meringues, orange flower water and the pinch of salt. Mix in the cooled melted butter. Beat the 2 egg whites into soft peaks and fold them in to the rest of the mixture.

IMG_2366Roll out the puff pastry to a thickness of 6mm (2/8”), and cut into 30 or so pieces with a 7cm (2 6/8”) fluted pastry cutter.

IMG_2367Gently place them in lightly buttered moulds 5cm (2”) wide and 2cm (6/8”) deep.

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IMG_2375Fill the pastry cases with the mixture.

IMG_2377Sift icing sugar over them to give a light dusting over the whole surface, and sprinkle a few grains of Demerara sugar on each one.

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IMG_2379Bake in a medium to hot oven, with even bottom heat, for about 10-15 minutes. The pastry and the filling will puff up to an unlikely-seeming height – if they don’t, adjust the oven temperature and stand your filled trays on a hot metal tray or baking stone.

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Serve hot or cooled on the day of baking. They don’t really need any embellishment but if you want to plate them as a dessert they are good with some fruit coulis (raspberry or blackberry) on the side.

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For a more printable version of the recipe, look on the Recipes page.

Unlikely things to do with a potato: Scottish macaroons

IMG_1566I love it when the nieces come to stay. There’s always an adventure. This time, soon-to-be-sommelier niece arrived with delicious burgundy and pretty French macarons. Once the burgundy was drunk, we fell to musing on the macaron – or macaroon, as the box would have it. For a family of pedants that extra ‘o’ was enough to set us off – a macarOOn is something altogether different! And to two lassies with Scotland in their childhood that double ‘o’ could only mean one thing: a lot of sugary white stuff surrounded by chocolate and toasted coconut. But the nearest corner shop likely to sell us one was several hundred miles away. Our mission was clear. We had to make one.

And what a strange confection it turns out to be. Who knew that there were any sweets made out of a potato? Not me. But our cursory research proved that potato is, indeed, one of the key ingredients, along with icing sugar (Made Stuff is helpful, as is London Eats). It was snowing too hard to venture out for more icing sugar, but anyone with caster sugar and a coffee grinder has everything they need. In no time the potato was boiled and mashed, the sugar ground, the chocolate melted, the coconut toasted. Hey presto: a prefect macaroon, tasting just like they used to. We see a great future in potato-based confectionary. You heard it here first.

If you don’t fancy making a haggis, perhaps you could try this as your home-made Burn’s night treat at the end of this week – but be warned. Some people respond very badly to the idea of potatoes for pudding – so maybe you should keep the secret ingredient to yourself…

IMG_1516Recipe

My scales weren’t working so we had to work by volume, and since we had to grind all the sugar we made a very small quantity which I’ve written up below. You can’t eat many as they unfeasibly sweet, so a small quantity isn’t a bad thing. The basic principle is a ratio of 4 times icing sugar to potato, and you’ll know from the texture when to stop working the sugar into the mixture. Don’t worry unduly about precision. As long as it doesn’t taste of potato, you’re fine. Note that we made ours from golden caster sugar so the inside is a little bit yellow rather than the usual dazzling white – think of this as a more wholemeal version of the original…


Ingredients

1oz (1/4 cup) cooled mashed potato – with nothing added, so don’t use buttery creamy leftovers
4oz (1 cup) icing sugar, maybe more if needed
2-3oz good dark chocolate, melted
2 oz dessicated coconut, half toasted, half not

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Mash the potato and start adding the icing sugar. The first part of sugar you add will miraculously turn the mash liquid. This is normal. Keep mixing in the sugar until you have a firm, pastry dough-like lump.

Decide how large you want your macaroon bars to be, and pull off appropriately sized pieces from your lump of dough. We went for smallish bars, but next time I made more dainty petit-fours sized version. Roll them into a sausage between your hands and flatten out into a small bar shape on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Once your mixture is used up pop them into the freezer for 20-30 minutes to firm up (the time in the freezer will depend on the size of the bars – the bigger the longer).

IMG_1527Meanwhile, gently melt your chocolate, and toast half the coconut at 150°C (300°F) for 5 minutes. Mix the toasted coconut with the un-toasted and put it on a sheet of paper or a flat plate.

IMG_1541Take your bars out of the freezer and one by one dip them in the chocolate then drop into the coconut, turning on all sides to coat them completely. If you don’t have a chocolate dipping fork, use two small forks for this, a different set for the chocolate and the coconut. Once they are all coated, but them in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to set and firm up.

Serve with coffee.