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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Fig Roll Recipe

When I was a kid one of my very favourite biscuits was the "fig roll". I never did give much thought to what that lovely, squidgy filling was and despite the name, it would not have occurred to me that it had anything to do with figs. I'm not sure I even knew what figs were anyway back then.

I haven't had a fig roll in years but when I was thumbing through the Good Food Magazine the other day I came across a recipe for fig rolls. Actually, to be more actuate, it was a recipe for Sticky Toffee Fig Rolls. It was a recipe by Barney Desmazery, where he says he has based his recipe on the traditional fig roll in terms of shape and appearance but added chewy toffees to the figgy filling to add to the sweetness. I suspect that Barney has a bit of an issue with a sweet tooth as he is the same guy that wound me up in the spring by suggesting substituting the currants in hot cross buns for chocolate chips to make the recipe more child-friendly. Quite the opposite to me, as I usually find that cutting the sugar content of the recipe by a couple of ounces improves it. Anyway, it made me realise for the first time that it is possible to home-make fig rolls.

Given my general mission to eat less processed food, I was quite excited by the prospect of making a batch of fig rolls. Homemade food rarely tastes the same as processed food and, as much as the concept of highly processed food with questionable ingredients grates against my food preferences, sometimes I actually prefer the shop-bought version! I suspected fig rolls might be one of these times. None the less, I gave Barney's recipe a go, following the pastry instructions to the letter but substituting the chewy toffees for a grated ripe pear. Yeah, I know, they really aren't the same thing at all but I had a glut of pears at the time and had just been making a batch of Figgy Pear Mincemeat so I knew the flavours work together.

Anyway, the filling was delicious (even if not much like the shop-bought biscuit) but the pastry was all wrong. It was very much like a crumbly short-crust pastry and the whole thing was a bit like eating a sausage roll shaped mince pie. Clearly the pastry needed a rethink.

A week or two later I came across a recipe on the internet for fig rolls (don't know how, because I can't find it again now!). The pastry in this recipe was different to Barney's version and the figgy filling was just figs and water. So I decided to give it a go, using my modified version of Barney's filling and this new pastry. However, having made the filling, I discovered I was all out of wholemeal flour so had to use all plain. I decided that adding a bit of oat bran might help in the absence of wholemeal so I put that in as well.

I'm pleased to say that the whole thing cooked perfectly and came out looking like a fig roll. I could hardly wait for the biscuits to cool before trying one and that first one had slightly crispy pastry, which was lovely but not at all like the commercially made ones. However, the next day, after a night in the biscuit tin, the squidgy filling had made the pastry go soft and it was much more as I had imagined. It has been a while since I last ate a shop-bought fig roll so I can't directly compare these ones with those but I have a sneaky suspicion that my homemade taste better and I can guarantee that the ingredients are a good deal better!

Fig Rolls (makes 12)

200g soft dried figs, chopped
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 ripe pear, peeled and grated
1 oz caster sugar
180g plain flour
20g oat bran
75g margarine
25g light muscovado sugar
Pinch of salt

Place the figs, orange zest and juice, pear and caster sugar in a small saucepan and cook for 10 minutes until thick and sticky. Set aside and once cooled, blend. Preheat oven to 180°C and grease a tray. Rub together the flour, oat bran and margarine to form a crumb texture. Stir in the sugar and salt then add a little water to form a dough. Roll out the pastry, quite thin, into a rectangle and cut in half lengthwise. Spoon the mixture into long lines down the length of the two pieces of pastry. Brush the edge of each piece of pastry with milk then roll up. Cut each length into 6 pieces and press each one with the back of a fork. Transfer onto the baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden. Transfer onto a wire rack and cool.

Friday, 23 October 2015

The "Sugar Tax" debate makes me angry!

There has been a lot of talk in the media this week about the introduction of a "sugar tax" to help tackle Britain's obesity problem. I am in no doubt that something needs to be done to help Britain improve its diet and tackle all the health issues but talk of introducing a sugar tax makes me really cross and for many reasons.

1) Firstly, I think people should learn to take more responsibility for themselves and stop looking around to see who else they can blame and to particularly stop blaming the government for not doing things when they do actually have individual choice and self-control. I fear that the current generation of adults is acting like a bunch of spoilt, self-indulgent children who are used to getting what they want, when they want it. We have everything "on demand" and the cash/credit to buy what we want. The creation of foods such as "Cookie Dough Ice-cream" perfectly illustrates the sort of society we live in. Being allowed to lick the spoon or bowl when cooking with mum as a child is supposed to be a special memory that brings back warm fuzzy feelings of a loving moment of shared enjoyment. As tasty as raw biscuit dough is when five years old and enjoying some attention from your mum, it is not something to spoon into your mouth by the bowlful whilst watching TV as an adult. As adults we are perfectly aware that some foods are full of sugar and best not eaten and we should avoid them most of the time, indulging in them occasionally if we wish. We do not need the government to force an increase in the price of fizzy drinks in order to have a lightning-bolt moment of realisation that these things are not the best thing to put into our bodies. And is something that adds an estimated 7p on a can of fizzy drink going to have an impact on people who like to drink them? Given that cigarettes are already highly tax but people still smoke them would suggest not, at least for some. Indeed, it is the poorest people who generally have the worse health largely due to smoking and diet. These people find the money for cigarettes by compromising on other things. Sadly, processed food usually works out cheaper than "real" food so someone struggling on a small budget is more likely to eat more processed food and anything that puts up the cost of food/drink is just going to make them eat less well. If the government want to make it so that your earn more by working than living on benefits, they should also see about making it cheaper to eat real food rather than junk. If the sugar tax can do this then I will heartily support it.

2) The obesity crisis and the appalling state of our processed food industry is a huge problem and a sugar tax will not solve it. I am worried that the introduction of a sugar tax will tick some box somewhere and the powers-that-be will sit back and say, hey, look we are helping, we have done this where in fact they should be thoroughly dissecting the issue and sorting all of it out. Although I do blame people who eat and drink obviously unhealthy foods for their health issues, I also appreciate that most people are eating stuff that they are unaware of and, despite making a conscious effort to eat better, are still ending up with stuff inside their bodies that they would wish to avoid given the choice. Although I say that people should stop blaming the government and take personal responsibility for their lifestyle choices, I do think the government should take the food industry in hand and properly look at what goes into processed food in terms of sugar, salt, fat, additive and processing aids. Much clearer labeling on food should be made compulsory so that we are better informed and can make better choices. All sugar ingredients should be labelled as such so that people are aware that other ingredients, such as fructose, maltose, corn syrup and alike are still sugar and that forms of modified starch get instantly converted into sugar by the body too once eaten. Fizzy drinks and iced doughnuts aside, it is all too easy to eat too much sugar when eating processed food.

3) It worries me that if a tax is put on sugar, they will replace it with other stuff that I really don't want to eat. This is something that already hugely bothers me and is already an issue. If sugar is seen as the enemy then artificial sweeteners will be used more and become harder to avoid. I hate artificial sweeteners, not least because they taste awful. Their health impact is extremely questionable, with talk of some being carcinogenic. More immediately, when you eat or drink something with artificial sweetener in it, your body detects the sweetness and prepares the body for the associated calories, including releasing insulin into the blood. When the calories do not follow, you are left with cravings and this can result in you eating something else to compensate. There is research to show that people who consume artificial sweetener instead of sugar actually get fatter. It also maintains the "sweet" taste in the mouth, meaning that the palette is not retrained to accept and appreciate less sweet food. If you wish to reduce your salt intake you are advised to cut down on salt and retrain your palette to enjoy less salty food. This is what needs to be done when reducing sugar intake, not substituting it for chemicals that are often hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. If the food industry were to make "reduced sugar" food and drinks that actually just had less sugar in them that would be a good thing but they don't - they put artificial sweetener in instead. And, what's more, they have to add other things to that food to replace the sugar they have taken out such as bulking agents, preservatives, things to improve the gloss or colour and so the whole thing ends up being a cocktail of artificial chemicals.

4) We need to stop treating children as children and more as small people. Why do we need food specifically targeted at children? Why do we have children's cereals, children's snacks and children's menus? If the answer was simply in order to give them the appropriate sized portion then that would be fine but it's not. Somehow we have been trained into believing that children won't eat breakfast unless it is sugar coated, or chocolate flavoured and shaped into amusing characters. We end up preparing different meals so that the adults and the children are eating different things because we say that children won't eat what we are eating. In many countries there is no such thing as a separate children's menu - just smaller portions from the adult menu... and children eat it. Japanese children are the healthiest in the world and they eat what their parents eat and, unsurprisingly, that does not mean Cocopops for breakfast. I remember reading in the well-respected Good Food Magazine a  hot-cross bun recipe where it suggested replacing the currants with chocolate chips for the children. Do I even need to spell out why that lead me to a lengthy rant that morning in my kitchen. As a generation of self-indulgent adults we are indulging our children at an extent never seen before and we can all guess what kind of adults they will turn into. We need to get a grip on this or the problems will perpetuate through the generations. And I'm not having a go at parents because I know that it is a consequence of the society we live in and that children see things that they want on TV, on menus and from their friends so you are forced to at least let them try them, or fear creating the even more alluring "forbidden fruit" mentality. Just this week my 13 year old refused to take my homemade savoury munch seeds to school in her lunch box even though they are one of her favourite foods, just because in the past she has been teased by her peers about eating them. The contents of her lunchbox has to meet the expectations of her peers as much as her hairstyle, clothes and taste in music. And this, sadly, is a culture carried over into adult social media these days were people are proud to show how they gave into the temptation of a box of doughnuts, a whole pack of biscuits, bar of chocolate, a hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows, or another bottle of wine and people "like" them for it. Yet, posting a photo of your dinner is considered a social media faux-pas, especially if it is healthy as, apparently, it is showing off and just makes people feel bad.

5) On a personal note, a sugar tax would have a huge impact on my jam business and yet completely miss the point in terms of helping people's health. Jam, when made the traditional way, is 50% fruit and 50% sugar, so, for example, the ingredients label on my raspberry jam will read: raspberries and sugar. It is not, despite the quantity and, indeed, quality of the fruit used, a health food. However, it isn't something, unlike Cookie Dough Icecream, to eat by the spoonful in front of your favourite on demand boxset. Instead, it is a little something to enjoy on your toast. I can guarantee that even eating jam on toast every day will not make you fat if (and this is the key point) it is enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. I have been asked many times if I make jam for diabetics and I have looked into how it is possible to reduce the sugar in jam. Last year I experimented with both just reducing the sugar content and using Stevia as a sugar replacement. Because sugar is required to make jam set, I had to use a gelling agent to make it set, adding pectin and calcium chloride to my jam. In addition, the jam lost its gloss and went mouldy within a fortnight. The taste, with the added Stevia, was to my palette, unpleasant too. The resulting jam had an ingredients list that read: raspberries, water, pectin, Stevia, calcium chloride. It was a useful exercise for me as it made me realise that this was not the route I wanted to take for my products, preferring instead the natural, traditional combination of fruit and sugar. A sugar tax would make my lovely, handcrafted, artisan jam even more expensive than the trash you can buy in the supermarkets but have absolutely no affect on the health of the nation. The point here is, a blanket sugar tax is not discerning in its impact and will probably make it harder for the smaller producers, trying to craft beautiful and carefully made foods that we should be encouraging and supporting whilst having no real impact on the big boys that are the real problem.

6) On a similar note, I use sugar in my baking and a sugar tax presumably would make this sugar more expensive to buy. When I make my cakes I can see exactly what goes into them and I can perfectly control the quantity of sugar used. I can also exercise my self-control and choose only to eat one slice at a time. Making home baking more expensive will not solve the obesity problem. Home baking and home cooking does not make you fat, it is eating processed junk food and take-aways as a matter of course that does.

The sugar tax is this vague "magic wand" that with one sweep is supposed to solve our problems but what we need is specific, targeted and well-thought through changes to the food industry. Hidden sugars need to be brought out into the open so that we can make better choices and properly avoid eating sugar without realising it. We need to collectively reduce both sugar and sweetness at the same time so that we retrain ourselves to appreciate less sweet foods. And we just need to take personal responsibility for our own diets (and that of our children) and accept that we cannot continuously indulge in this kind of food and not suffer the health impact.

Monday, 19 October 2015

A review of "Swallow This" by Joanna Blythman (and the food industry in general)

When I was at university, I used to snack on Kelloggs Elevenese Bars. At the time I thought they were quite nice, being moist and springy dark sponge cakes with a richness as if they were made from dark sugar and spices; and with a topping of sprinkled oats they looked quite nutritious. I remember, quite distinctly, years later deciding to buy a pack of Elevenese Bars on an occasion when I didn't have time to bake a cake. Things had changed in the intervening years and I was now an adept home cook and baked various cakes, biscuits and flapjacks weekly in order to satisfy snack or dessert cravings. It was a surprise to me (but maybe not to you) that when I bit into an Elevenese Bar I was somewhat disappointed with the flavour and couldn't help but wonder what the hell that taste was - because it certainly wasn't home cooking!

Recently, whilst reading the Good Food Magazine, I came across an advert for a book called, "Swallow This" by one of their regular columnists Joanna Blythman. In it, amongst other descriptions, it said that if you had ever wondered what it was that made processed food taste the way it does then you should read this book. As I had been wondering ever since the Elevenese Bar incident what on Earth it is that makes commercial bakes taste so screamingly unlike home baking, I was instantly hooked.

I have now finished reading the book and I'm left in this weird indecisive place, not knowing whether it is a book I would recommend that everyone should read or whether I would recommend no one read it. It is such an alarming and detailed dissection of the food industry that I would not wish that knowledge on anyone. It is, quite frankly, enough to put you off your food. But at the same time, it strikes me as wrong that the food industry can get away with misleading us and conning us into eating rubbish and that people should be better informed about their food. If more people knew what was going on there would be more consumer pressure on these large industrial companies to clean up their acts and present us with proper, nutritious food. It leaves no doubt in my mind what is causing the obesity crisis, the prevalence of cancer and the increase in allergies. Also, from the perspective of an artisan food producer, if people fully understood what happens to food when it is processed in a factory and dished out cheaply by supermarkets, they would understand why artisan food is worth the extra price asked for it and wouldn't glibly say, "I can buy that cheaper in the supermarket."

We are all used to food scandals hitting the headlines and we all, I'm sure, make choices about food based on a desire to avoid eating certain things. However, this book doesn't talk about the familiar topics such as animal welfare, contamination of the food chain, the spread of hideous diseases across livestock or even illegal immigrates being exploited and probably handling your salad without washing their hands! Instead this book looks at the stuff that is part of the every day production of food, the stuff that is legal, allowed and accepted. Despite the food standards and European Union regulations, these are the things that go into our food. Some of them even make it onto the label. This is perhaps what is most alarming - it's not about when things go wrong but about what we are eating when things are going right.

Chapter by chapter Joanna looks at the way food is processed to create the familiar foods we buy in the shops.

"Sweet" looks at the astonishing amount of sugar hidden in processed food, including apparently savoury foods. It also talks about the use of artificial sweeteners, how they make you crave more food and can ultimately make you put on weight. In addition, it details the other additives that are required to replace the sugar that is taken out to add bulk or preserving properties.

"Oily" talks about the issues around fats, the way it has been blamed for obesity issues for years, the battle of saturated against unsaturated fats and the confusion around healthy and unhealthy fats. It also outlines the alarming, industrial way oils are extracted from their vegetables and raises questions about their quality.

The chapters "Flavoured" and "Coloured", discuss added flavourings and colourings, pointing out how highly processed food loses it natural flavours and colours and that these need to be replaced with chemical additives, some of unsavory origin.

"Watery" opened my eyes on the full extent of added water to food and the processes that meat, particularly is subjected to to make them take on and retain added water.

"Starchy" explains the ubiquitous use of modified starches to food. An ingredient I wasn't previously too alarmed to find on a food label, I now feel less comfortable about its presence... and it seems to be everywhere.

"Tricky" looks at the use of hundreds of enzymes in the food industry and how they can be used without ever appearing on the label as they are considered to be processing aids rather than ingredients. Their health implications are unclear.

"Old" discusses the additives used to prolong shelf-life, along with storage and packaging techniques and raises questions over what the term "fresh" actually means.

And just when you think you can't take any more, "Packed" pulls apart the food packaging part of the industry and looks into the chemicals that end up in our food from the wrappers and containers it is put in.

There are several reasons why reading this book disturbed me and it wasn't just the unremitting bombardment of alarming disclosures and the, at times, emotive language she uses. The first is that I am a switched on, well educated individual who really cares about food and yet I was generally unaware of the stuff she mentions. The next is that I am cynical about advertising generally and claims made about products and yet I have been as duped about the food industry as the next person and have been sucked in by claims about "freshness" or the relative health benefits of a particular product. Yet, most disturbing is how so much of what goes on does not have to be disclosed on the label or that the label has been "cleaned" - that's to say that ingredients that ring alarm bells with consumers have been taken out of the product and replaced with something just as processed but that can be put on the a label with a name that sounds like something that belongs in your own food cupboard. This to me means that even with what I have learnt from reading this book, I cannot hope to avoid things that made me feel uncomfortable when I read about them because I simply cannot identify them in the foods I buy.

So, having read this book, what now? I feel more enlightened but I think it is necessary to take a realistic attitude towards the food I eat. Joanna herself says that she doesn't treat her body as a temple and she accepts she will eat factory produced food. This to me is clear. It just isn't possible in today's lifestyle to eat a wholly unprocessed diet. Even I, as someone who makes a lot of food from scratch, cannot avoid processed food. A cake, for example, will contain flour (a processed food), a fat (processed and factory produced), eggs and flavours (processed, however natural they may be). There are also highly processed food that I really enjoy eating and don't want to give up. And, at times, when I'm scrubbing the mud off a potato, I positively hanker over a frozen potato product!

I started reading this book in August and have only just finished reading it because I don't have many reading minutes in any give day. I'm pleased to say that this book is so rammed with information that it is hard to hold it in your head for long. Already I have forgotten a lot of the detail and in many ways I am glad about this. What I am left with is a general feeling that I want to eat less processed food. This is not really news and is the way I have been going for years anyway and this book has just confirmed that this is the right thing to do. Food made from recognisable ingredients (better still if they are home grown) taste so much better anyway. I'm also in control of what goes into the food and I know, without doubt, the salt, sugar and fat content because I put it there. I might not always make health food and I might sometimes indulge in a cream cake but at least I'm not conning myself about what I'm eating.

If you think you can stomach it, I urge you to read "Swallow This". At least then you will be more aware of what exactly you are eating and you can go some way to taking back control over the food that ends up inside you.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Apple Charlotte - What's that?!

Sunday was the Stony Stratford Apple Day and this year, amongst other things, they were holding an apple charlotte competition. Last year my daughter had entered the apple crumble competition and had been pleased to win 3rd prize so as soon as I said we would be going to the Apple Day she asked what this year's competition was. She, like I, had no idea what an apple charlotte was so I looked it up on the internet. That was when I remembered that in the spring when I had been watching "Kew on a Plate" on TV Raymond Blanc had made an apple charlotte that I quite fancied giving a go when the apples were next ready.

So, armed with Raymond's recipe, my daughter and I set about making the charlotte. It is, essentially, a sweetened apple puree encased in bread and baked. Something like an apple bread and butter pudding or a summer pudding. Raymond's recipe called for two specific apple varieties - Cox's Orange Pippin and Orange Blenheim. However, what he was essentially getting at was that one variety was required (in this case the Cox) to cook and keep its shape, and the other (the Blenheim) needed to quickly turn to mush.

In the slightly eccentric collection of events that is my life, I happened to have been given some Cox's Orange Pippin apples. The man in the flat cap with a Scottish accent who lives 4 doors over had given a bag of them to my husband the other day when he'd been busy working in the front garden. The man (typically we don't know the name of most of our neighbours) had been to Windsor Great Park and had collected the apples from there (presumably with permission - it's not the sort of place you'd want to go scrumping!). Anyway, he said he thought that I would be able to make something with them.

As for the Blenheim, I didn't have any but one of our apple trees (variety unknown) produces apples that mush down beautifully.

The recipe requires making a caramel and cooking the Cox's in that, then making an apple puree from the Blenheims and using a bit of pectin to make it set. I don't have powdered pectin so I substituted the pectin and the caster sugar in that section for jam sugar (which is sugar with pectin added). Then, buttered bread (Raymond recommends wholemeal bread) is used to line a cake ring and the middle of the ring is infilled with the caramel apple mixed into the apple puree. This is then baked and allowed to cool and set before serving.

There isn't anything particularly difficult about making an apple charlotte so it was well within the capabilities of my daughter. However, it would have been useful to have had a photo of what we were trying to achieve and at times I felt Raymond was a little unclear - probably because we didn't really know what we were aiming for. None the less, we managed to create something that looked OK and that I was sure was going to taste great, given the apples that we had used.

Shortly after taking the charlotte out of the oven, I phoned my mum for our usual weekend chat and told her that we had made an apple charlotte. She gushed at this and said that her mum had made apple charlotte when she was a kid and she loved it. However, it soon became clear that what she had been served as a child was not in the least like what was cooling on my wire rack. A moment of panic crept in and I had to Google images of apple charlotte just to reassure myself that we had made the right thing!

The next day, we took the charlotte to the Apple Day and into the judging tent. A lady was there, accepting the entries and we had a conversation about the competition. She said that for the first Stony Stratford Apple Day they had had an apple pie competition but not many people had entered. She suspected this was because people didn't like making their own pastry these days. Last year the competition had been apple crumble and loads of people had entered because everyone can make a crumble. This year they had wanted the competition to be something again that didn't require making pastry and charlotte had been suggested. I did point out that not many people know what one is and she agreed.

Nevertheless, over the next hour a good number of charlottes were placed on the table for judging. I soon began to realise that it was possible to be quite elaborate with the appearance of the charlotte. Next time we make one I think I will arrange the apples in a circle on the top surface rather than hiding them within the puree. It also seemed obvious that white bread was the bread of choice, giving a more squidged, molded shape that our rather pert looking wholemeal. Clearly Raymond Blanc doesn't know what he's talking about! Still, we had made ours, as I do with most of my cooking, to taste great. Not that this mattered in the end as when we came back to the tent after judging, my daughter's charlotte had been awarded 3rd place but was apparently untouched and untasted, unlike those in 1st and 2nd place. Silly me, I should have realised from 12 weeks of being forced to watch Great British Bake Off that showstoppers are a visual treat first and foremost.

My daughter was happy with her 3rd place and she had been given a Snickers bar and Club biscuit for her efforts. I, on the other hand, was still interested to know how those lovely apples tasted, wrapped in their casing of wholemeal bread, so I went back to the tent to retrieve our entry. By then it was half eaten by hungry Apple Day visitors so I whipped the remains off the show bench and packed it up to bring it home. We ate it on Monday, cold and on Tuesday, reheated with custard. Needless to say, we appreciated the apples and the effort, enjoying it most when hot with custard. Definitely one to try again, perhaps tweaking the recipe and appearance next time, now that we know what an apple charlotte actually is!

Having felt that our apple charlotte was not quite as it should have been, I decided I wanted to give it another go so in November I tried again, using a combination of Bramley apples (to mush in the compote) and some other unknown variety that keeps it shape when cooked. I decided too to use white bread and my medium hemisphere pan (from Lakeland). I also decided to line the pan with bread completely to make a dome. I don't know whether it is the convention to serve it chilled but we enjoyed it reheated and served with custard. The end result was much more pleasing.

Apple Charlotte - Raymond's recipe with my changes:

For the caramelised apples
  • 80g/3oz caster sugar
  • 25g/1oz unsalted butter, chilled
  • 500g/1lb 2oz Cox’s Orange Pippin or another variety that keeps it shape when cooked) apples, peeled, cored and each cut into 8 wedges
For the compôte
  • 150ml/5fl oz fresh apple juice
  • 10g jam sugar
  • 250g/9oz Blenheim Orange or Bramly (or any others that mush when cooked) apples (about 5), peeled and chopped
  • ½ tsp vanilla purée or good-quality vanilla extract
For the hemisphere pan
For the Charlotte
  • 200g/7oz white bread, cut into fingers
  • 50g/1¾oz unsalted butter, softened

Preparation method

  1. For the caramelised apples, in a large sauté pan or frying pan over a medium–high heat, heat the sugar to a dark golden-brown caramel without stirring, then add the butter. The caramel will emulsify with the butter and the cold butter will also stop the cooking of the caramel. Add the apples and cook in the caramel for 5 minutes, with a lid on, until they soften but still hold their shape (the centre will still be a little raw). Remove from the heat.
  2. For the compôte, mix 50ml/2fl oz of the apple juice with the jam sugar. Slide the chopped apple into a medium saucepan set over a medium heat. Add the remaining apple juice and cook for 10 minutes, covered with a lid, until the apples break down. Add the jam sugar mix and vanilla purée or extract, stir and cook for a further 5 minutes to allow any moisture to evaporate. Remove from the heat.
  3. Preheat the oven to 210C/190C Fan/Gas 6½.
  4. Lightly butter the inside of a medium hemisphere tin or pudding basin and sprinkle with caster sugar. Tap it lightly to ensure an even coating; tap off any excess. Place the tin on a baking tray, using a fried egg ring to keep it steady if you have one.
  5. For the Charlotte, cut the slices of bread into fingers. Lightly spread both sides of the bread with the butter then use it to line the inside of the ring, overlapping a bit. Press to ensure they stick to the sides.
  6. To build, mix the caramelised apple into the compôte, then pour the mixture into the centre of the ring to fill the Charlotte. Place the apple Charlotte in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely for a minimum of 3 hours. This will allow the pectin to set fully and firm up, which will also make the Charlotte easier to slice. Once cool, turn the Charlotte upside down by placing a large plate on top and flipping it over. 
  7. To serve, carefully cut the Charlotte into 6–8 pieces. This beautiful dessert can be served with vanilla ice cream or crème Chantilly. It’s also perfect with a glass of your best cider. Alternatively, reheat in the oven at 180°C for 15 minutes and serve hot with custard.