I could be wrong but I get the impression fewer people are doing a roast on Sundays these days. Some of my emptynester friends say they only bother when their offspring return home or if they have guests. Even after my youngest went off to university last year I continued to cook a Sunday roast, partly because it’s the one occasion each week when we haul my frail and elderly mother-in-law upstairs from her flat below to join us and partly because, well, it’s delicious. My children tell me they’ve always enjoyed the weekly ritual and this pleases me because it means it’s worth the (not necessarily huge) effort. When I was pottering about in my kitchen, one recent Sunday morning, it struck me that one doesn’t have to spend very long preparing the roast and that simple does not have to mean dull. And of course if you are too busy during the day pursuing the leisure activity of your choice, you and your family can have this meal in the evening rather than try to fit it in at lunchtime.
So this post is about proving that it needn’t be hugely time-consuming or arduous and outlining how I made roast chicken and apple crumble in two hours flat. It is also to show you that not all Aga cooking is long and slow, which is not to say that slow roasting isn’t an excellent way of making the most of an Aga: you can put your joint of meat in the simmering oven before bed on Saturday night or bright and early on Sunday morning and have meltingly tender meat for lunch or supper on Sunday. I did this recently with a pork belly and it was one of the best roasts we’ve ever had.
On this particular Sunday I took the bird out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature, and then, having popped out to buy the Sunday papers, I started on the lunch preparation. I roasted the potatoes around the chicken. They absorbed the buttery garlicky juices and the flavour and texture were superb. I love them done this way (and it saves time and washing-up) but they were not crisp. If you want crisp, you’ll have to par-boil them for 5 minutes and then roast them in very hot duck or goose fat in a tin on the floor of the roasting oven for about thirty minutes.
- 1 whole free-range chicken weighing about 1.5kg
- Unsalted butter
- Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
- About 8 bay leaves
- A sprinkling, ie to taste, of Lakeland Herb Sea Salt
- Potatoes: one or two per person, peeled and chopped into large chunks. I used these red potatoes on this occasion but any variety will do. In the summer I use new potatoes: just halve the larger ones and there’s no need to peel them
- Place your chicken in a roasting tin with enough room around it for the potatoes
- Spread butter generously all over the bird and sprinkle with the herb sea salt or if you don’t have any, just salt and pepper
- Place one garlic clove and one bay leaf in the cavity
- Slide the tin onto the second rung of the roasting oven and leave it there for 20 minutes before removing it, basting it with the buttery juices and placing the potatoes and remaining garlic cloves and bay leaves around it, turning them to coat them in the butter too
- Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the fourth rung, for about an hour. Half way through, turn the potatoes and give the chicken another baste
- The chicken is done when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife and the juices run clear
- Remove the bird to a large plate or board, keeping it near the Aga and maybe covering it with a clean tea-towel. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and place the potatoes in a serving dish in the simmering oven to keep warm while you make some gravy
- All I do for this is deglaze the roasting tin with some white wine on the simmering plate and then pour all of this through a sieve into a small pan to bubble away for a few minutes, adding more wine or some stock and whatever else you fancy: for example, you could whisk in a little crème fraîche. Decant this into a small jug and keep it warm on the back of the Aga while you get everyone to the table and find someone to carve your bird
- I will leave the choice of accompanying vegetables to you but the other day I served ours with steamed Savoy cabbage tossed with a little butter and lots of black pepper added
You can be making this while the chicken is roasting. This is the basic recipe; feel free to add cinnamon and/or some raisins to the apples; or reduce the amount of apple by 25 per cent and replace with blackberries when in season.
- 4-5 cooking apples
- 110g/4oz unsalted butter
- 110g/4oz plain flour
- 110g/4oz ground almonds
- 110g/4oz golden caster sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon
- A heaped dessert spoon of demerara
- First make the crumble by placing the butter, flour, almonds and sugar in a large bowl and using your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor
- Peel and slice the apples, putting the slices straight into the dish you want to bake the crumble in. Add some lemon juice to stop the apples from turning brown
- Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, smooth it over and then press it down with the back of a spoon
- To finish, run a fork lightly over the surface and sprinkle over the demerara
- Bake in the baking oven, with the rack on the fourth rung, for about half an hour until golden brown on top and the apples feel soft when a knife is inserted into them
The first lemon and ricotta cake I made was not a success. It was a Jamie Oliver recipe and didn’t really work, producing a rather dense cake. It may of course be entirely my fault and I might try it again one day. On the other hand, I’m not sure why I’d bother because yesterday I made a Diana Henry version from her book Simple and it was light and moist and delicious.
This cake works as an afternoon tea cake but also as a dessert served perhaps with some berries and crème fraîche or whipped cream. It’s best eaten slightly warm. It’s the ricotta that makes the cake moist but it also means it doesn’t keep that well. Don’t do what I did and make it on a day when hardly anyone’s around to share it with you because it really is best eaten on the day it’s made. If you do have some left, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate it. This is what I did and the next day I gave it a blast (a minute or two at high heat) in the microwave to warm it up a little and it freshened up beautifully. I was thrilled when our Italian friend, who is very particular about the food of his homeland and whose late wife was the most wonderful cook, gave it his approval.
Lemon and Ricotta Cake
Serves 8 (depending on hunger/greed)
You will need a 20cm springform tin, lightly greased and base-lined (with bake-o-glide)
- 175g unsalted butter, softened
- 175g golden caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of 4 unwaxed lemons and the juice of 3
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 250g fresh ricotta, drained in a sieve
- 100g self-raising flour, sifted
- 25g ground almonds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Icing sugar to serve
- Beat the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy
- Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, beating well after each addition
- Stir the lemon zest and drained ricotta into the batter
- Whisk the egg whites until they form medium peaks
- Stir the lemon juice into the batter, then fold in the flour, almonds and baking powder
- Fold two big spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it, then fold in the rest
- Scrape the batter into the prepared tin
- Put it in the baking oven and bake for 45-50 minutes; a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean once it’s cooked
- Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then remove the springform ring and let it continue to cool, although as I mentioned above it’s delicious served slightly warm
- Dust with icing sugar to serve
As we Aga cooks all know, cooking a quiche in an Aga couldn’t be easier because there is no blind baking required. You just have to add the filling to your pastry-lined tin and place the whole thing on the floor of the roasting oven to bake for 30 minutes or less. The pastry will cook from underneath avoiding a “soggy bottom”, as Mary Berry would tell you. The top will be golden brown.
The classic quiche is Quiche Lorraine made with bacon and Gruyère cheese, but there are so many variations you could try. For example, Diana Henry’s delicious salmon and crab tart with Thai flavours which I wrote about here.
Yesterday I made a simple smoked salmon quiche based on a Delia Smith recipe from her Complete Cookery Course. It was for a picnic for my husband and two friends who have been spending today salmon and trout fishing on the Usk. They also took with them roast asparagus dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, some mini pork pies (not homemade, I’m afraid), strawberries, rock cakes (my own), cinnamon buns (our favourite ones from Hart’s Bakery) and flasks of tea and coffee. They will not starve. I think I spotted a bottle of wine in the picnic basket too.
Smoked Salmon Quiche
Quantities here are for a 20cm fluted quiche tin, ideally with a loose bottom. Yesterday I doubled the quantities and used a 28cm tin.
For the pastry:
- 110g plain flour
- 25g lard
- 25g butter
- a pinch of salt
- cold water, to mix
For the filling:
- 175 smoked salmon, chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 275ml double cream
- freshly grated nutmeg
- a dash of cayenne pepper
- Salt and black pepper
- Lightly grease your tin
- Make up the pastry by rubbing the fats into the flour and salt with your fingertips and adding a little cold water to combine. Rest it in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm for at least half an hour. Alternatively, use shop-bought pastry; I don’t mind one bit
- Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line your tin with it
- Arrange the smoked salmon over the pastry base in the tin
- Beat the eggs with the cream and add salt, pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg to taste
- Pour the filling into the tin and sprinkle over a little cayenne pepper
- Carefully slide the tin onto the floor of the roasting oven and bake for 20-30 minutes. Check it at 20 minutes and turn it round. When the pastry is golden and the filling is firm and golden brown, it is ready
This is a recipe passed to me years ago by my 93 year old mother-in-law. She used to knock up these biscuits for my boys when they came home from school, or make a batch to go with fruit and ice-cream for our Sunday dessert.
I made them today to accompany strawberries and whipped cream. I know it’s only April and the temperature outside makes it feel more like March, but the strawberries in Waitrose looked so beautifully red and plump, I couldn’t resist buying them. They did not disappoint.
These biscuits are buttery, short and light and couldn’t be easier to make.
For about 16 biscuits
- 225g self-raising flour
- 50g caster sugar
- 175g butter, softened
- Place all the ingredients in a food processor or mixer and mix until combined in a soft dough
- Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out to a thickness of approx 5mm
- Cut out into rounds, using a 7cm cutter
- Slide a metal spatula or a large palette knife under each (rather delicate) round and place on the full size Aga baking tray lined with Bake-O-Glide. You will need to do bake these in two batches
- Place the tray on the third rung from the top of the baking oven for about 10 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown
- Leave them on the tray for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack
My husband, a lover of all apple-related desserts, says this is his new favourite Sunday lunch pudding. New to us, he means, because fruit cobblers have been around for years. For some reason they did not feature in my repertoire. Until now. I’ve made a couple of cobblers in recent weeks and my husband’s at the “I could eat this every week” stage. He’s even sent a photo to our youngest, who’s returning home from university for the Easter holidays soon, telling him what a treat he has in store. Who would not want to cook for someone so enthusiastic and complimentary?
When researching cobblers I started off with Delia, then found a Mary Berry example and a couple of other online recipes, and came up with this. I plan to vary it according to available ingredients; apple and blackberry would definitely work, as would rhubarb and ginger.
- 150g self-raising flour
- 50g cold butter, cubed
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 4 tbsp milk
- 3 or 4 large Bramley apples
- A handful or two of sultanas
- 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon (to get a strong and fresh cinnamon flavour we buy cinnamon sticks from Cinnamon Hill and grate them as and when required)
- 75g demerara sugar
- Make the cobbler first by placing the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl and rubbing the butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor, but it’s very quick by hand
- Stir in the caster sugar
- Add the egg and milk and combine until it’s like wet scone mixture
- Peel and slice the apples and place in a dish. You can grease it if you like but I don’t and it’s been fine
- Stir in the cinnamon, sultanas and Demerara sugar
- Place dollops of the cobbler mixture on top of the apples; there will be gaps
- Bake in the baking oven for 30 minutes or so until the top is golden brown and the apples are soft
- Serve warm with cream
At last I’ve found a successful recipe for tarte tatin. For some reason until last weekend my attempts at this dessert were disappointing: either they collapsed on being turned out or the sugar didn’t dissolve to make a sufficiently yummy caramel syrup. The recipe which worked for me on Sunday is by Raymond Blanc and is surprisingly easy and straightforward, which is a joy because I find recipes by great chefs are often, well, chef-y, involving lots of complicated steps and therefore not for a simple home cook like me. How could I resist a recipe allowing me to use bought pastry (the trick of freezing the rolled out disc was a revelation) and to keep the peel on the apples?
There is more than one story about how this upside down apple tart recipe came about. The one I choose to believe tells how Stéphanie Tatin (who, with her sister, ran the Hotel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron in France) was making an apple pie one busy day and left the apples and sugar for too long until there was a smell of burning. She tried to rescue the pudding by putting the pastry on top of the apples and placing the whole pan in the oven to finish off. She turned out the tart and served it to her guests who, to her surprise, loved it!
Pre-heat conventional oven to 180ºC
You will need an 8″ tarte tatin tin like this:
- 8-12 dessert apples (I used Braeburn)
- 3 tbsp water
- 100g caster sugar
- 60g cold, unsalted butter, diced
- 30g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a small bowl towards the back of the Aga)
- 250g-300g all butter puff pastry (shop-bought!) rolled to about 3mm thick and cut into a disc slightly larger than the diameter of the base of the tin, pricked with a fork and frozen
- Place the water in the tin and sprinkle over the sugar; leave for 2 minutes to allow the water to absorb the sugar
- On a medium heat/the Aga simmering plate cook the syrup until it’s a pale golden caramel. The heat of the simmering plate might be a bit fierce and you don’t want the caramel to get too dark so you could slow this stage down by placing the tin in the simmering oven while you prepare the apples
- Cut the apples in half horizontally and core them. Slice off the rounded tops and bottoms so that the apples can sit flat in the tin
- Stir the diced butter into the caramel syrup until it’s melted
- Sit the apples, with the middles uppermost, in the tin in a single layer, packing them in as tightly as possible. Press them down with your hands as you go
- Brush the apples with the melted butter and place the tin on a baking tray and in the baking oven for 30 minutes
- Remove the tin and place the disc of pastry on top. Tuck the sides in if you can and prick a few holes in it with a sharp knife to allow the steam to escape. Return to the oven for about 40 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown
- Leave in the tin for about an hour to cool (although I can confirm 15 minutes is enough: I was short of time) before turning it out and serving warm with cream or ice cream. Monsieur Blanc says it can also be made the day before, refrigerated and then reheated.
At a shoot lunch towards the end of the season, my husband was served what he termed “the best pudding I’ve ever eaten”. He loved it so much he asked his hostess, Clare Pelly, for the recipe so that he could make it at home. Only joking; I mean so that I could make it for us all. I don’t mind at all: I’m happy to be the cook in our relationship because I enjoy it and because I’m better at it than he is, just as there are many things I don’t like doing which he is happy to do and is better at than me. I imagine this is how most successful partnerships work.
As it turns out, I’m very grateful to him for getting me the recipe for this “best ever” pudding because it’s absolutely delicious. Clare is also an Aga cook and the pie is particularly suited to Aga cooking because it can be baked on the floor of the roasting oven, which gives wonderful, crisp pastry.
For 1 x 10″/26cm or 2 x 7″/18cm flan tins
- 8oz/200g plain flour
- 4oz/100g butter
- 1 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 2lbs/900g cooking apples
- 2oz/50g raisins
- 4oz/100g plain flour
- 4oz/100g caster sugar
- 2oz/50g butter
- 10floz/285ml double cream
- 2oz/50g caster sugar
- 2tsp cinnamon
- Pre-heat conventional oven to gas mark 6/200ºC
- To make the pastry, sift flour, rub in butter, stir in icing sugar and bind together with yolk and water. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for about 30 minutes
- Roll out thinly and line your prepared tin(s) with it. No need to bake it blind
- Peel, core and slice your apples and mix with the raisins
- Make a crumble by sifting the flour, stirring in the sugar and rubbing in the butter
- Spoon half of this into the tin
- Cover with the apple/raisin mixture and pour over the cream
- Spoon over the remaining crumble mixture and sprinkle on the topping
- Bake on the floor of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes until it’s bubbling and caramelised or brûléed on top. Your pastry should be lovely and crisp, although you won’t know this until you’ve cut into it
- Conventional oven: after 25 minutes turn it down to gas mark 5/190ºC for 10 minutes
- Can be served hot, warm or cold
I always worry about the Aga cooling down if you give it too much to do at once but yesterday I cooked a pheasant, some roast potatoes and this pie in the roasting oven in the space of one and a half hours and everything was perfectly cooked.
The first time I made this pie we were a little disappointed that the cinnamon flavour wasn’t very strong. Cinnamon is one of my husband’s favourite things so he did a bit of research. First of all he saw that the cinnamon I’d used (by Bart’s) was a blend “sourced from several Fairtrade producers” and that the cinnamon considered to be the best is from Ceylon. So from the website cinnamonhill.com I bought some Ceylon cinnamon sticks and the next time I made the pie, we used the fine Microplane grater to grate some for the topping and reader, I can confirm it tasted noticeably better.