Rejoice: here is a recipe that uses egg whites. Are you the kind of person who keeps egg whites stashed in bags in your freezer after making ice cream because you can't bear to see them go to waste? Are you the kind of person who once took home a kilner jar of thirty egg whites from the restaurant where she worked because the chef was otherwise going to throw them in the bin after a furious bout of pasta-making? Are you the kind of person who is horrified by Nigella Lawson's admission that she sometimes separates eggs directly over the sink so as to avoid the conundrum posed by the leftover whites? If you're not, you're probably on the wrong blog and we have nothing in common. If you are, read on. You'll be delighted.Read more
We don't really tend to think outside the box that much with clementines. Unlike oranges, which permeate our gastronomic consciousness in all manifestations, clementines seem generally reserved, in the popular mindset, simply for raw eating, usually around Christmas. The few times clementines have cropped up on my culinary radar in other guises, they seem wildly exotic. I noticed cartons of clementine juice on the shelf in M&S a while back, which held a great allure for me simply because of its novelty factor. It is also, I suspect, a cunning ploy to charge twice the price for it because of said novelty; a bit like the fact that you can buy 'Pink Lady apple juice' and pay through the nose for the privilege of having a branded apple pulverised inside your carton.
Sometimes they crop up in baking - Nigella's clementine cake is justly famous around the world (and by 'the world', I mean 'recipe books and the internet', because that is my world), although I don't think it was Nigella who invented it; Claudia Roden has a version too, and versions abound everywhere under different titles and with a couple of ingredients added or tweaked.
The basic principle is always the same - boil clementines (or oranges) in water until soft, then smash in a blender with ground almonds, eggs, sugar and other good things to make a fabulously moist, orangey cake. Sometimes you see clementines in savoury cooking, but usually only where you'd otherwise find oranges - with duck, for example - rather than in any wildly novel pairing.
I've often thought that the clementine is the fruit I'm most fussy about. Sure, I like apples to be crisp without a hint of woolliness, but generally I find them edible in most shapes and forms. I like pineapple to be super-sweet without that mouth-puckering astringency, but I'll still tolerate it if it's a bit sour. Mango - ideally ripe and dripping with marigold juice, but I'll still settle for one rather firmer and with a hint of a chalky texture; these can be pleasant too, in their own way.
Bananas I enjoy when green (though my gran always swore these would give me headaches), but I'll still eat them riper than that, when really hungry. Soft fruit - raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries - is rarely inedible once given the room-temperature-and-sugar treatment. Papaya you can't go wrong with, really - I don't think the notion of an overripe papaya even exists in my consciousness. Pears can still be nice even if you've misinterpreted their state of ripeness; glassy and crunchy, they can be rather refreshing, albeit less perfumed and succulent than when truly ripe and dripping.
But the clementine? I reckon only 50% of the time a clementine gets it right.
I honestly believe I can tell a good clementine by sight. Sometimes I need the additional confirmation of picking it up, but generally I have a good idea how it's going to taste by how it looks. The skin should be quite thin, clinging desperately and lovingly to the flesh of the segments inside, rather than bulging out - this suggests lots of air spaces in between, which means the clementine has started to dry up and the segments are puckering unpleasantly. The best specimens are usually quite small, which means they are less watery and more full of sweet, tart juice. The clementine should feel swollen in the hand, bulging out against its skin, which should be taut and shiny.
I've had some really horrible clementines in my time. Nothing worse than biting into a segment to have your mouth filled with hideously flavourless juice, often with a slightly stale taste about it. Nothing worse than segments which are pale and puckered. A clementine should be tart, almost sour, but sweet at the same time. It should be irresistibly moreish - when you find a good batch, you should be able to contemplate eating eight in a single sitting.
A few weeks ago I was sent a box of such clementines by ClemenGold, a South African company specialising in exceptionally delicious clementines grown around the world. They have selection criteria for their fruit that are even fussier than I am: 48% juice content; 11% sugar level; acidity between 0.7 and 1.3%; each fruit containing no more than three seeds. This formula adds up to a clementine that is truly special, with just the right balance of sweetness and tartness. They're also easy to peel and virtually seedless, which is a bonus.
Apparently they're technically Nadorcott mandarins, though only the best get given the ClemenGold trademark. I'm still not entirely sure of the difference between a clementine, a tangerine, a satsuma, and a mandarin (can anyone enlighten me?) apart from the fact that mandarins are the ones you find in tins, and I think generally mandarins are a bit tarter than clementines. But they all get subjected to my sight-test criteria, and the same rules apply to them all.
When I say I was sent 'a box', perhaps 'a crate' would be more accurate. The most gigantic treasure trove of orange orbs arrived in the post, leading me to wonder if perhaps the company had mistaken me for a wholesaler. There must have been at least 200 fruits in said box. However, this may also have been a clever marketing ploy, because I was forced to distribute clementines to everyone I know so as not to waste them (much as I love a good clementine, even I am not a citrus-ingesting machine), and everyone who tried them was as wowed as I was. I'm pretty sure I must be single-handedly responsible for a spike in sales.
Should you wish to pursue these luscious orbs and inject a little edible sunshine into your own kitchen/mouth, they sell them at Asda, Morrisons, Booths (posh northern supermarket; can't wait til I move to York next week); Sainsburys and Waitrose. I bought some more yesterday, which are much larger than the original ones, but still have that excellent sweet-tart flavour, so I can (sort of) vouch for their consistency.
Should you ever find yourself in the privileged position of possessing a box of 200 clementines, I would obviously suggest eating them raw with gluttonous abandon, but if you want to do something a bit more creative, have a look at the recipe suggestions on the ClemenGold site, or do what I was just criticising (sorry for my gastronomic hypocrisy) and use them as you would oranges. In baking. In the form of mini muffins.
These are a simple cake batter, infused with clementine zest, a little honey, and some finely chopped rosemary. Don't ask me why; I just had an inkling that rosemary and clementines would work well together (and they do). I promise you it's not overly herbal or strange, just fragrant and delicious. The tops are smeared in a little molten white chocolate for added sweetness to complement the rosemary and citrus.
The best part is that they are tiny and adorable, with their little hats of white chocolate and clementine zest. This is also the worst part, because they are incredibly moreish and easy to eat in large batches, so you may hate yourself afterwards.
But it's nearly autumn now, and we need to fatten up for the winter, so here's a lovely clementine-inspired way of doing it.
Clementine, rosemary and white chocolate mini muffins (makes around 30):
(You can also bake these as normal-sized cupcakes, in which case the mixture makes 12)
- 150g butter, at room temperature
- 100g caster sugar
- 2 tbsp clear honey
- 3 medium eggs
- 150g self-raising flour, sifted
- Zest of 2 large clementines
- 1 tbsp very finely chopped rosemary
- 60g white chocolate
- Clementine zest, to decorate (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170C fan oven. Line three 12-cup mini muffin tins with mini muffin paper cases (you may not need them all).
Beat the butter, sugar and honey together in a large bowl using an electric whisk, until the mixture is light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes). Add the eggs and flour, then beat until smooth. Stir in the clementine zest and chopped rosemary.
Divide the mixture between the paper cases - a scant teaspoonful in each should do it - and bake for 10 minutes until just risen and slightly golden - they should be firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
When cool, melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (don't let the bowl touch the water), then spoon a little over the top of each muffin. Finish, if you like, with a sprinkling of more clementine zest.
'Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon' ~ Doug Larson, 1924 Olympic gold medal winner
No, don't worry. This is still me. This blog hasn't been taken over by an impostor. I'm not being held hostage somewhere chillingly remote while food-blog fraudsters take over Nutmegs, seven.
But yeah, I know. You probably think I'm going mad. That I'm not myself. My recipes are normally so healthy, so full of vibrant fruit and vegetables and sexy wholegrains. Only a couple of days ago I posted about my love for virtuous sugar-free dried fruit compote...
...and now I've created something that basically combines all the hallmarks of American gastronomic hedonism in a single muffin.
Interestingly, did you know that bacon dates back to Roman times? That a bacon sandwich is the nation's favourite 'guilty' food? That the phrase 'bringing home the bacon' possibly refers to an Essex tradition of AD 1111, where a noblewoman offered a prize side of bacon to any man in England who could honestly say he had had complete marital harmony for an entire year and a day? (Apparently in over 500 years, the prize was won by a grand total of...er...eight men).
No, I didn't know any of this either. It's remarkable how little we think about one of our favourite, staple foodstuffs.
I had the privilege of testing out some simply gorgeous M&S bacon, smoked over chestnut chippings and flavoured with juniper. You buy it in packs of thick, fat, meaty slices that actually look like they've been cut off part of a pig, rather than the horrible congealed slab of sticky mess that normally constitutes most packets of cheaper supermarket bacon. This stuff has a really lovely depth of flavour and a proper smokiness. It's pretty salty, so if you're using it for cooking I wouldn't add any extra salt.
It's probably a little more expensive than your standard bacon, but actually I reckon you'd need to use less in a recipe because it has such an intense flavour (and clearly hasn't been pumped with water like a lot of the cheaper varieties), so it basically works out at the same price. Plus happier pigs are involved. Win-win.
The other night I woke up, completely randomly, at 3.30 am and suddenly the idea for bacon, pecan and maple syrup muffins popped into my head.
It kind of had to be done, really.
One of my students came round yesterday for a lesson and saw these muffins cooling on the rack. She said "wow, what beautiful cupcakes". I said, "yeah, they're quite interesting...they're bacon, pecan and maple syrup. Would you like one?"
She looked at me like I was insane, and without any hesitation said, "no."
Not, "oh, that sounds...interesting! I'd love to but I'm still really full from breakfast", or "oh, I wouldn't want to deprive you of them", or "thanks but I'm a vegetarian". Just, no.
I admit, it does sound a bit odd. But this combination works. These are obviously muffins on the more brunchy, savoury side - they're not going to compete with fancy swirly, glistening, buttercreamed cupcakes for the attention of one's sweet tooth. But the combination of salty bacon, fragrant pecans and sweet syrup is really irresistible, and a wonderful platform for anything you want to pair it with.
These muffins are an all-rounder kind of food. They're fabulous warmed up and buttered for breakfast or brunch. They're ideal served with cheese for lunch. I bet they'd be delicious dunked into a pea or vegetable soup, or served alongside a simple dinner instead of bread rolls.
Or, of course, you could just pour over some more maple syrup and eat them whenever you like.
They're a simple muffin mixture (flour, eggs, milk, oil) to which I added a little cornmeal, partly for texture and partly because it's reminiscent of American cornbread, that brunch classic; I couldn't combine bacon, maple syrup and pecans in a recipe without acknowledging the clear influence of American brunch. I'm quite into adding cornmeal (or polenta) to baked goods at the moment - it adds a slight grittiness, but in an interesting rather than unpleasant way.
Into the muffin mixture goes chopped bacon, fried until sizzlingly crisp and glistening with fat. Then crumbled pecans, toasted until fragrant, sweet and nutty. Then the glorious amber elixir that is maple syrup. Dark brown sugar gives an extra caramel flavour to the muffins that enhances the maple flavour. A little dried thyme and sage to give everything a lift, a little black pepper, and they go in the oven to emerge twenty minutes later warm, fluffy, salty, sweet, crunchy and wonderful.
This is basically American brunch in muffin form. Portable, neatly portioned, faff-free American brunch. You need to give these a go soon.
Bacon, pecan and maple syrup muffins (makes 12):
- 200g plain flour
- 70g cornmeal or polenta
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sage (dried or fresh)
- 1 tsp thyme (dried or fresh)
- A pinch of black pepper (or cayenne if you want to add an extra kick)
- 120ml milk
- 2 eggs
- 120ml vegetable oil
- 70ml maple syrup, plus extra for drizzling
- 4 rashers of bacon, finely diced and fried until crispy
- 60g pecans, toasted and crumbled
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/190C fan oven. Line a muffin tray with 12 muffin cases.
Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, salt, herbs and pepper. Whisk together the milk, eggs, oil and maple syrup. Add this to the flour mixture and stir until just combined - don't over mix. Stir in the bacon and pecans, reserving a little to top the muffins before they go into the oven.
Divide the mixture between the muffin cases, then sprinkle over the reserved bacon and pecans. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack, then drizzle each muffin with a little extra maple syrup. Leave to cool if you can, otherwise devour instantly.
For all they parrot about wanting to help customers make healthy choices, coffee chains clearly don't actually want this. If they did, they wouldn't attach the prefix 'skinny' to lower-calorie choices. I don't know about you, but I can never actually bring myself to utter the words "skinny muffin", "skinny latte" or "skinny double-chocolate mocha" (and I usually think the latter is only likely to merit the response "Yeah, you wish, fatty" from the barista). It just sounds ludicrous in every way, and there's something dreadfully uncool about opting for lower-calorie varieties. It makes me sound like I take myself far too seriously, like I think I'm some A-list celebrity whose fast-paced and pressurised career means she must live entirely off skinny lattes and not a single molecule of fat must pass her lips.
This is clearly not the case. I write a food blog - I am obviously not the girl in the coffee queue clutching a skinny muffin and asking for a skinny latte. However, I do appreciate the inclusion of apparently less fattening muffins at the counters of Starbucks and the like. It's just that I hate the notion of a 'skinny' muffin. No one gets skinny by eating muffins. Unless they are muffins made out of air. There's a reason why a common name for the fat that hangs over one's too-tight trousers is 'muffin top'. Also, most of these so-called skinny muffins are laden with sugar and other weird things to make up for their lack of fat, so their health benefits over the normal variety are debatable. That said, I'd definitely be better off eating one of these than doing what I used to do every Saturday as a teenager: skip lunch and just eat a Starbucks triple chocolate muffin between breakfast and dinner (needless to say, that one is not of the 'skinny' variety). Ohh, those sweet white chocolate chunks in their dark, unctuous blanket of spongy, buttery, cocoa-ridden sugary goodness...
Unfortunately, my metabolism is probably not what it was back then. However, every now and again (and by that I mean daily...or hourly...) I just get a craving for something cakey, slightly sweet, slightly stodgy, and preferably packed with juicy pieces of fruit (look, I've grown up - I now like fruit instead of chocolate in my baked goods!). In the interests of not being enormous, I've come up with these muffins. I call them 'vaguely healthy' (as opposed to last week's 'super healthy' banana bread) because they still have added sugar in them, and they're full of fruit and seeds which, while very good for you, are not exactly calorie-free. (Actually, I was initially going to call them the 'Anti Muffin-top Muffin' but it didn't sound quite right.) However, there's no butter, just a little olive oil and egg white, so they're definitely a slightly more healthy choice than normal muffins, which are made with quite a lot of butter and/or oil. They're also packed with nutritious berries, seeds, bananas, wholemeal flour and oats.
The use of banana keeps them really moist and squidgy in the middle, meaning you're likely to have to eat half of the muffin off its paper case, but I like to think that is rustic and pleasing. They have an interesting nuttiness from the wholemeal flour, oats, seeds and mixed spice, and I generally think they're a lot more fun to eat than a boring, homogenous, mass-produced coffee shop muffin. Particularly when you get a lovely piece of juicy, tart, unburst berry or a chunk of banana that escaped the mashing process. If you have any berries lying around in the freezer (and anyone who has read about my freezer hoarding habit will be entirely unsurprised by the fact that I currently have 5 punnets of redcurrants, two of gooseberries, three of blueberries, two of raspberries and one of blackberries), this is a great way to use them up - you can just add them frozen to the mixture and put it straight in the oven.
If you have the kind of craving that only cake can satisfy, then you're at least better off eating one of these than your average Starbucks muffin, crammed full of preservatives and fat. See these as my contribution to the 'skinny' muffin genre...just don't make me call them that.
Vaguely healthy berry muffins (makes 12):
- 150g wholemeal self-raising flour
- 150g white self-raising flour
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda
- 50g light muscovado sugar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 4 tbsp mixed seeds (I used linseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds)
- 50g oats plus 1 tbsp for sprinkling
- 2 medium bananas, as ripe as possible
- 280ml buttermilk or yoghurt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 egg whites
- 200g mixed berries (I used raspberries and blueberries)
- 1-2 tbsp demerara sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 170C. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases.
Sift the flour and bicarb into a bowl and add the sugar, honey, mixed spice, oats and seeds.
In a separate bowl, mash the bananas together and mix with the buttermilk, oil, and egg whites. Pour this into the dry mixture and quickly mix together with a spoon until just combined - don't over mix and don't use an electric beater. Stir in the berries and dollop the mixture into the muffin cases.
Sprinkle the oats and sugar over the top of the mixture then bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Very good eaten whilst still warm.