hen in snowAnd not the chocolate variety. I have lived for many years under the misapprehension that chooks, or a least the non-battery kind, only lay eggs when it’s warm. How I imagined the supermarkets were able to supply eggs whatever the weather, I don’t know. Anyway, not true. As long as the days are long enough, they will merrily trot out eggs even if there’s a foot of snow on the ground. Which there is.

As if to illustrate the point, my neighbour’s flock have been filled with the Easter spirit and are popping out eggs like tennis ball feeders.  Clearly the mysteries of chicken husbandry will remain ever veiled to me, but I’m more than grateful to help eat the glut. Indeed, I’m grateful for a glut of anything at the moment.

Twice-baked Cheddar Soufflé:

Always go to a trusted source for tricky things like soufflés. This version is slightly adapted from Leith’s Cookery Bible:

  • 1/2 pint milk
  • 1/2 onion
  • 45g butter
  • 40g plain flour
  • pinch of mustard powder
  • small pinch of cayenne
  • 110g really strong cheddar, grated
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • salt and white pepper
  • 400ml double cream

Liberally butter 8 metal pudding bowls (roughly 5cm deep like the ones you make pannacotta in. I’ve found metal is preferable to glass or ceramic because it seems to help it rise).

Warm the milk with the onion then remove the onion once hot.

Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan and stirring in the flour, cayenne and mustard to make a thick paste. Remove from the heat and gradually beat in the milk a little at a time (probably sacrilege, but a good whisk rectifies any lumps).

Return to a medium heat and stir until it bubbles and thickens. Have a quick sample to make sure it doesn’t taste of flour.

Take off the heat, allow to cool a little then add most of the cheese, all the egg yolks and season.

In another bowl whisk the egg whites to a medium peak (ie: the peaks only just flop over) then fold into the cheese mixture a bit at a time. Think peaceful thoughts when doing this, you don’t want to beat all the bubbles out.

Spoon into your buttered dishes, place the dishes in a warmed bain marie (the water should come half way up the sides) and bake at 180 degrees for 15 minutes or until set. Remove from the water and allow to cool (they will sink but don’t fret).

At this point you can freeze them or fridge them until needed. When you’re ready to eat them, thaw well and place in an oven-proof dish. Pour the cream all over them, coating entirely and sprinkle on the remaining cheddar. Leave to soak for 10 minutes then cook at 230 degrees for 10 minutes and marvel as they rise magically and turn golden. Serve immediately.

Makes 10 little ones.

pandoro pud

Pandoro Bread and Butter Pudding:

I tend to make this freestyle, dolloping in another blob of cream or an extra egg depending on my state of gluttony, so please excuse the approximate volumes.

  • 1 large pandoro
  • butter, softened
  • a small handful of sultanas soaked in marsala
  • 3 eggs
  • 450ml whole milk
  • 4 tbsp double cream
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar

Cut the pandoro into slices 1cm thick and butter both sides – like a granny would, good and thick. Mix the eggs, milk, cream and sugar together in a jug.

Line the base of a deep oven-proof dish with a layer of the pandoro slices. Feel free to tear the slices to make the shapes you need to plug any gaps, nursery food shouldn’t call for precision.

Sprinkle over some sultanas and repeat, building up the layers until you reach the top of your bowl. I aim for at least three layers. Next, sprinkle any remaining sultanas on top, pour over the egg mixture and leave to soak for 20 minutes.

Now cover the dish with foil and bake at 170 degrees. After 20 minutes, remove the foil, sprinkle the top with caster sugar and return to the oven for 20 minutes to brown.

It’s quite sweet and eggy so I serve it with a dollop of creme fraiche which cuts through the goo.

Serves 6, just.

Egg Pasta (and cheats macaroons with the leftovers):

There is no better way to spend a snowy afternoon in the kitchen then making pasta and puddings. I use Jamie Oliver’s basic recipe for the pasta, though I have been known to add a couple more egg yolks should I find myself with an abundance of eggs. If you do the same, you’ll be left with 2 spare egg whites: perfect for making a low rent version of a chocolate macaroon by Nigella which you can find here.

As I settle to watch the snow and gorge myself on pasta and macaroons, I’m reminded of when I met the poultry keeper at Thyme Manor. He told me he’d installed daylight bulbs on timers in the chicken coops so they thought the days were longer, Spring had come early and they kept laying. Could someone trick me into imagining Spring is here?