Sunday, 30 August 2009

TGRWT #18 - Plum and Blue Cheese

This month's TGRWT hosted at Aiden Brooks: Trainee Chef seemed, to me, like a winner from the off. Something about the creamy strength of a blue cheese and the relatively quiet flavour, but great refreshing burst from the bite of a plum made Blue Cheese and Plum as good a pairing, in my mind, a .. well, cheese and grapes.
The biggest challenge that I've had this month has been living (temporarily) in a studio flat with a kitchen obviously designed for people who never cook - it has a microwave and one of these terrible halogen style hobs.
Perhaps, in the circumstances, it was a little overambitious to try a recipe with set custard and puff pastry, but I've been waiting for an excuse to try my hand at puff pastry making and the dessert competition element was such an excuse, and I like a challenge (I have also, pretty succesfully, been "baking" bread in the microwave).

Blue Cheese pastry with a Plum Custard shell

To flavour the puff pastry I took a Heston Blumenthal method of cutting slices of butter and blue cheese (a Danish Blue) and layering them, then I left them in the fridge for almost a week while I finally got around to carrying on with recipe (I meant to leave them for a day).
I made a dough with some flour, salt and water, kneading a fair bit to get some good gluten bonds, then folded it around the butter. I rolled this out and put in the fridge. Then folded and rolled and in the fridge, and so on until I'd done this... I forget how many times.

To cook I rolled thin and flat strips of pastry and then put in the microwave on high for anything from 1 to 3 minutes (took a lot of experimenting). The flavour of the cheese just wasn't enough from the flavoured butter, despite the extra time they'd had together, so sprinkled some cheese between two strips of pastry and rolled out. This made really tasty blue cheese puff pastry sticks(and surprisingly crunchy for having been made in the microwave).

To make the set custard I made up a usual custard recipe (Egg yolks, sugar and cream) and put them in the microwave for about 2 minutes on high. I cut up and reduced the plums into a thick syrup with some sugar and mixed this into the custard, then cooked on medium for a further 10 minutes or so, until it was looking like it would be set soon. Then took it out of the microwave to continue its cooking on its own (as seems to be the method with microwave cooking). Then put it in the fridge to set more (and, in the case of one of my bowls of custard, accumulate some of the smells from its neighbours on the shelf, not very pleasant).

I formed the, now cold, custard into an egg shape and wrapped around the pastry stick. Then I added some slices of plum which I'd added towards the end of the cooking of the plum syrup.
A smattering of very bitter chocolate finished it off.

I would definitely like to explore this recipe at the helm of a real kitchen, rather than the paddling with one broken oar style of cooking that I've been reduced to in this one (although it has enlightened me to some of the subtleties of microwave cooking that I'd not been aware of - such as very well broken down collagen in long cooked stews, anyway I digress).
As you can see from the photos one problem that I had (as I see Erik from fooducation also had) was that the dairy in the custard and the acid from the plums caused slight curdling, which doesn't look very nice.
The main plum flavour came from the slices which I placed on top, and not from the custard which tasted very much of custard (the plum flavour not being strong enough to break through) . With the bitterness of the chocolate, sweetness of the custard, tartness of the plum and saltiness of the cheese this is certainly a good mix, and I think that all of the flavours could be beefed up a bit, so as to rise above the custard taste (which should not have been the star player) and make it a well balanced pudding (dessert). I think that dried or candied plum blended into the custard might get rid of the curdling problem and also add a stronger flavour.