I'm rather embarrassed to see how long it's been since the last post. In my defence, we've just had the (joint) hottest summer on record and the whole country has bascially been outdoors for the last couple of months anyway. It's still lovely and sunny outside but the weather is noticably cooler and we're turning our thought s towards autumn.
Last weekend I took myself off to the family farm in Surrey to pick damsons. It's been a great year for the fruits and the handful of trees we have growing wild in the the hedgerows were all bursting with fuit. I've made the usual bottles of damson gin but had plenty left over to try a new recipe. Thankfully our September chapter hads the answer.
The damson, once moderated with heat and sugar, has such an incredible depth of flavour, it certainly makes for something spectacular in the autumn. Cooked into jam, made into pies or crumbles or turned into damson cheese, it will provide rich flavours for both sweet and savoury dishes. A damson sauce for wild duck is excellent and a damson jam tart makes a sweet, sticky teatime treat.
I have gone down the savoury route for this recipe, taking some cues from the old-fashioned fruit cheeses. Quince cheese is perhaps the most common, either in its British guise or the slightly more textured Spanish version, membrillo. A slice with a strong cheddar or crumbly blue is a perfect pairing. The buns are based on a classic choux pastry recipe with the addition of the cheese and some mustard.
They make great pre-dinner party nibbles and the dip has warming, spicy notes that just hint at those colder days to come.
Blue cheese beignets with spiced damson dip
makes approximately 40 buns
For the damson dip
1 cinnamon stick, broken up
10 black peppercorns, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
75ml red wine
50g caster sugar
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the buns
100g unsalted butter, cold, diced
2 tsp Maldon sea salt, finely ground
1 tsp caster sugar
140g plain flour
4 large, free-range eggs, beaten (220g)
1½ tbsp Dijon mustard
100g crumbly blue cheese (Devon Blue, Stilton, Bath Blue or similar), coarsely grated
25g Parmesan, grated
freshly ground black pepper
15g Parmesan, finely grated
1. Preheat oven to 200˚C.
2. Tie all the spices for the dip in a square of muslin. Combine the wine, damsons and sugar in a heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Add the spice bag and cook on a gentle simmer until the fruit has broken
down and the stones are released.
3. Squeeze all the liquid from the spice bag and then rub the fruit through a coarse sieve. Pick out all the stones and add any pulp back to the liquid. Check the consistency and season with salt and pepper. The dip wants to be like runny jam so it clings to the buns but isn’t too thick. If it is too thin, just return to the heat and simmer a bit more.
4. To make the buns, put the water, milk, butter, salt and sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Boil for 1 minute and then add the flour all in one go. Cook for a further minute, beating the mix hard with a wooden spoon. The mix should become shiny and fairly dry-looking.
5. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a couple of minutes and beat in half the egg. Add the remaining egg gradually until you have a smooth paste. Add the mustard, blue cheese and
the 25g of Parmesan along with a good grind of black pepper. Transfer the mix to a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle.
6. Pipe 2cm balls onto a tray lined with baking parchment or a Silpat mat. Bake for 15–18 minutes until crisp and a deep golden brown. Sprinkle the finely grated Parmesan over the
buns and return to the oven for 2 minutes. This will give a crisp, savoury top to the buns.