Locked in

We’re into week five of the lockdown – at least I think we are, I sometimes lose track of time! ūüôā ¬†Last Monday, we had some good news – sort of. ¬†Emmanuel Macron announced that France should gradually come out of the lockdown from May 11th onwards. ¬†There were no indications as to how it could work, but no doubt the details will follow. ¬†Of course, that means that we’re in for a little more than three weeks of staying at home!! ¬†ūüėČ

Last Sunday being Easter Sunday, I had planned ahead and bought a piece of saddle of lamb from Boucherie Gerard, my local butcher. ¬†Along with most food shops, Corinne and Nicolas Gerard have stayed open throughout the confinement. ¬†They’ve been incredibly cheerful, and it’s always been a joy to shop there!

I wanted to roast the lamb, but as the joint was relatively small (700 g) I figured that a traditional roast would be somewhat tricky to pull off successfully. ¬†I briefly considered cooking it at a low temperature (80 degrees Centigrade) for many hours but I dismissed that idea too. ¬†In the end, I hit upon cooking the lamb saddle in a salt crust. ¬†I’ve ¬†cooked things in salt crusts a number of times, and it has always worked well for me. ¬†In fact, I’ve previously written about that way of cooking here. ¬†In an old copy of House Beautiful I came across an article by Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant in Manhattan, in which she gives directions for cooking beef tenderloin in a salt crust. ¬†I used that as my inspiration!

To begin with, I browned the joint all over in a frying pan. ¬†I started in a ‘dry’ frying pan, i.e. without any fat, and I placed the joint with the skin side in contact with the hot iron first. ¬†It soon started to give up some fat, and that was all I needed to help brown the rest of the meat. ¬†It was quite smoky, so I was glad to have an efficient extract fan above my cooker!

While the meat was browning, I prepared my salt crust. ¬†In a large bowl, I beat an egg white until it was foaming, then I added two kilos of coarse sea salt (kosher salt) and a little water. ¬†The texture was that of sand that’s damp enough to build a sandcastle with. ¬†Below is a picture of the lamb nearing completion of the browning:

I placed a layer of the damp salt mixture on a baking sheet, and put the lamb on top of that:

I then encased the lamb with the remaining salt mixture:

Once it was all covered, I put it in the oven, which I had pre-heated to 130 degrees Centigrade.  Gabrielle Hamilton gave the roasting time for her tenderloin as 45 minutes and I stuck with that.

Here’s what the lamb looked like when it came out of the oven: not all that different to when it went in!! ūüôā

I left the meat rest for about 15 minutes, before I cracked open the crust.  It had set very hard, but a sharp blow with the blunt edge of the cleaver soon made it crack!

There was a fair amount of salt clinging to the meat, so I used a pastry brush to get it all off!

I had prepared some mashed potatoes, pan roasted vegetables and mint sauce while the meat was cooking, so I was ready to carve and dish up as soon as the meat had been ‘liberated’ from the crust!

The lamb was wonderfully tender, with just a hint of pink all the way through, and a great savoury flavour. No salt is needed with this method of cooking, the salt crust takes care of all the seasoning!

Best of all, after this wonderful meal there were enough leftovers for lunch the next day!! ūüôā

Since it was Easter Sunday, there was a little dessert to end the meal.  I cut a few slices from the lamb-shaped sponge cake I had made, and topped them with a little rumtopf, fruit which had been macerating in rum and sugar for some months!  Simple and oh so delicious!!

How was your Easter meal – did you have any special treats??

Hot and cross

Since today is Good Friday, I thought I should ¬†write about Hot Cross Buns for today’s post. ¬†I looked at recipes in several cookery books: ¬†Elizabeth David’s¬†English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Angela Piper’s¬†The Archers’ Cookbook, and Reader’s Digest’s¬†Farmhouse Cookery: Recipes from a Country Kitchen. ¬†For good measure, I also looked at Felicity Cloake’s recipe for Hot Cross Buns on the Guardian website.

The origins of¬†the hot cross bun are somewhat hazy – Elizabeth David has not a great deal to say about the history, and other articles on the subject don’t offer much more. ¬†During Elizabethan times a law was passed forbidding the sale of spice buns except at funerals, on Good Friday and at Christmas. ¬†Elizabeth David does not relate whether the spice buns sold on Good Fridays in Elizabethan times had a cross on them, but she’s fairly categorical in her dismissal of putting a cross on the buns in pastry or with candied peel as “unnecessary fiddling work”. ¬†I do love her no-nonsense style of writing!!

I also love Elizabeth David’s sweet spice mixture, which she gives in her book. ¬†It consists of two parts nutmeg, two parts white or black peppercorns or allspice berries, one part cinnamon bark, one part cloves and one part dried ginger root. ¬†I mis-read the recipe, or perhaps wanted to, and added white peppercorns AND allspice berries! ūüôā

My new kitchen scales seem to be fairly precise, so I weighed the nutmeg and used that weight as the basis for the other spices.  My small electric coffee grinder did a great job of reducing the spices to a fine powder.  The smell of the ground spices was divine and filled the whole kitchen!

Once I had studied the recipes on my kitchen table very carefully, I decided to use the proportions of Felicity Cloake’s recipe, but with some modifications. ¬†In her recipe, the milk is heated and left to infuse with the spices – I used Elizabeth David’s spice mix and added it to the flour. ¬†Instead of regular white wheat flour, I used Type 130 spelt flour, which is not quite white but not quite wholemeal either. ¬†Felicity Cloake’s recipe also had the highest amount of currants, so I reduced their weight a little, to 125g. ¬†Other than that, I followed the ingredients of her recipe.

I made the dough at lunchtime, so it could have a slow rise during the afternoon. ¬†After the initial mixing I let the dough sit for five minutes so that the flour could absorb the liquid. ¬†After that “hydration” period, the dough was still a little too soft for my liking, so I kneaded in an additional three tablespoons of flour. ¬†Then I covered the bowl with a lid and let the yeast cells do their work!

At the end of the afternoon, the dough was well risen and had a lovely aroma!  The partially deflated dough looked like this, you can see lots of air bubbles around the edges:

The currants and mixed peel were kneaded into the dough after it was deflated.

Then it was time to portion out the dough.  I weighed the entire dough and then divided it into 16 individual portions, weighing about 70g each.

I shaped the pieces of dough into balls and flattened them slightly. ¬†Once I had my two baking trays filled with the buns, I used my dough scraper to cut a cross into eight of the buns – pushing the straight side of the dough scraper right through and effectively cutting the buns into quarters. ¬†As the dough was quite soft, the cuts ‘healed’ up again but stayed visible. ¬†On the other eight buns I used a knife to cut a cross into the top of each bun.

Whilst I was doing the shaping of the buns, I had turned on my oven on the defrost setting, which warms to 50 degrees Рperfect for proofing yeast dough.  Once the buns were shaped, I turned off the oven and put the trays in.  It was just a little warmer than in my kitchen, and produced beautifully risen buns within 30 minutes.

Once the buns were risen enough, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and some water into a stiff-ish paste and put it into a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle.  Then I piped crossing lines on the buns.  I had prepared some egg-wash to brush the buns with before piping on the cross, but forgot to do that Рoh no!!

Some of the buns which I had cut with the dough scraper did not get a cross piped on – I had run out of the mixture. ūüė¶

I put the trays into the cold oven and turned it on to 200 degrees centigrade. ¬†With yeast dough, I have found that starting with a cold oven can produce wonderful “oven spring”, as the yeast goes into overdrive before being killed off by the heat. ¬†After 10 minutes the buns had puffed up nicely and were starting to brown. ¬†I removed one baking sheet at a time and brushed the buns with egg wash, before putting them in the oven again. ¬†After a further 10 minutes the buns were fully cooked and there was the most beautiful smell permeating the whole house!! ¬†If only this could be a scratch-and-sniff post!!

Traditionally, the buns should be brushed with a sugar glaze as soon as they come out of the oven. ¬†I have done this in the past, but I found that it makes the buns sticky and doesn’t add much more than that, so I gave it a miss this time.

What special foods will you be eating this Easter?