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Annabel Langbein: The Free Range Cook: Through The Seasons


Annabel to the rescue

We all know that cooking can take skill, time and more than a little patience.

But we also know that it can be infuriating, time consuming and sometimes exasperating.

To alleviate some of that stress, our Free Range Cook herself Annabel Langbein has been on hand during the series to answer some of your questions.

From Linda: Hello Annabel. Could you please send me the recipe for your crème fraiche. I missed it. Love the show and your food is beautiful.

Annabel replies: I hope you enjoy my recipe for Crème Fraîche. You'll find all the other recipes in my cookbook Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook - RRP $59.99.

Crème Fraîche

Prep time  5 mins + 48 hours resting
2 cups cream
3 tbsp buttermilk

Heat cream until just tepid (you just want to take the chill off it). Remove from heat and stir in buttermilk. Put in a lidded glass jar and leave to rest at room temperature for 24 hours, stirring a couple of times. Don't worry about leaving the mixture out of the fridge, as the cultures in the buttermilk stop it from going off and will transform the mixture into Crème Fraîche. 

After 24 hours at room temperature the mixture will have thickened somewhat. Stir or shake, cover again and put in the fridge for another 24 hours. It will continue to thicken a little and will develop the lovely light acidic flavour that defines Crème Fraîche. To thicken, simply shake in the jar or whip to your desired consistency. Crème Fraîche will keep in the fridge for up to 10 days.

From Marie: I have just made your choux pastry ring and it hasn't risen and is very dense, where did I go wrong, please help, would love to master this.

Annabel replies: The choux pastry base for this can be a bit tricky - as it is all about ratios. If the eggs are too big the mix can be too wet and sloppy, spreads too much and loses its shape. But it sounds like yours is too dry? The best way to tell is after you have beaten in the egg lift out the beater - the mixture should break rather than being so runny it just makes a line of mix.

Sometimes I beat the eggs and just add them slowly until I get the right texture.  If you boil the water too long before you add the flour then you get more evaporation so it can end up too thick. I suggest that from what you say you need to add another half egg. It's quite a cheap recipe to make so you may want to play round with it until you get it working for you.
From Daniel and Blake: Daniel (aged 6) and Blake (aged 5) here - we have been watching your show with Mum. We love food, and love working with Mum in the kitchen. We are both gluten free and Daniel is dairy free.  We would love you to do a low allergy show at some stage.

In the meantime, we were wondering which gluten free flour blend would be best to try and make choux pastry with - we will use dairy free margarine instead of butter. Keep up the good work - we love your show, and convert as many of your recipes for our use as we can.
Annabel replies: That's a tricky one as choux pastry can be hard to master anyway without changing the type of flour used.  Its not an expensive recipe to make so you might just want to play with alternate flours until you get it right. One thing you may want to do is have an extra half egg at hand to add into the mixture if it looks too thick at the end. You want it thin enough to easily spread out. Pleased you are enjoying the show and best of luck with your conversions.

From Mark: Am thoroughly enjoying your show, fabulous recipes. I have a question for you. I used to make chocolate crackles (rice bubble mix in cases) years ago for my children. Am unsure what recipe I used to use. Anyway I found one and it said to make them with dark chocolate. I used a Whittakers chocolate but they tasted so bitter! What is the correct chocolate to use to make these? Is it a cooking chocolate or a sweeter one such as dairy milk?

Annebal replies: I think you are best to use a regular eating chocolate that is sweeter, like dairy milk. You could also mix in a spoonful of icing sugar if they are not sweet enough for your liking.
From Chris: Our family love your show and it was all the buzz at the hairdressers recently! Needless to say my husband then bought your fantastic book following the mouth watering TV episode which featured your crispy pork belly dish which is so good.

My 8 yr old daughter and I made your ice-cream last weekend and although it tastes beautiful and creamy, it is very 'icy' and hard to scoop. Is this the result of something I have done in error or overdone perhaps? Can you help at all?
Annabel replies: Hmm... it should not be icy. We have had so much great feedback to this recipe! Here are two things to try. If you have a very cold freezer  (and some are colder) you may want to take out 10 -15 minutes before serving so it has time to soften. Be sure to just gently fold the three mixtures together - you don't want to beat them as you will lose all the lightness of the egg whites. Also make sure that you keep the ice cream in an airtight container if you are freezing it for any length of time. Good luck and happy cooking!
From Nicki: We're loving your show and would be grateful for advice on likely causes for our Panna Cotta splitting.

Annabel replies: You need to make sure that the mixture is fully cool before you add the buttermilk - if it's warm it will split.

From Charmaine: Hi Annabel, I can't wait to make your strawberry cloud cake on page 260.Can I use frozen strawberries.It's just a wee bit early for fresh ones.
Love your book and show congrats

Annabel replies: I have not tried with frozen berries but it should be fine. You would probably need to thaw them first. This recipe works on basis that the fruit has no fat in it, so the egg whites fluff up to a lovely meringue consistency with the berries. It should also work with other berries. Love to hear how you get on!
Happy cooking!

From Charlie: Hello there Annabel I must congratulate you on your show - top marks to you.
I'm only a novice cook I can only do the basics but I'm still not bad if I say so myself. When we blanch something does that mean not to cook at all or just scold what ever we are to blanch ?????
What can we do with a can of tomatos & a tin of tuna ?????

Annabel replies: Blanching refers to partial cooking by boiling. Plunge your prepared vegetables into boiling water for just 1-2 minutes then drain and refresh them in cold water. This way they will keep their bright green colour. Blanching is really useful when youre cooking stir-fries or adding vegetables to dishes at the last minute.

With a can of tomatoes and tuna you've got the makings of a delicious pasta sauce. Cook your pasta according to the packet instructions and while this is cooking prepare your sauce. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pot and sizzle 2 crushed garlic cloves for a few seconds. Add canned tomatoes, or 500g of tomato pasta sauce, 2 x 425g cans tuna, drained, plus 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp salt and 7-8 grinds black pepper. Simmer sauce for 5-7 minutes until it thickens a little. Mix in 2 tbsp chopped parsley and toss through cooked, drained pasta.

From Colleen: Hello Annabel, I am making my son's wedding cake and the bottom one being a 12inch square, if I double the ultimate choc cake recipe for this will it be large enough?  Love your TV programme keep it up with the lovely tasting dishes you create, Thanks muchly.   

Annabel replies: Dear Colleen
The chocolate cake makes one 12 inch (30cm) cake, so a single recipe will give you this. Enjoy, and keep up that fabulous cooking!

Helen writes: Hi Annabel, my 14-year-old son and I are enjoying watching your show and cooking the dishes from your book - thankyou for inspiring us both!
Please could you confirm that your Pork Rillettes with Prune topping (pg 127) really can be kept in the fridge for up to 10 days?  I have always thought pork to be a little like chicken, in that it should be eaten within 2 days of being cooked.  Is it really safe for 10 days and how is this possible?
Many thanks

Annabel replies: Dear Helen
I learnt about terrines in France with one of the best home cooks there,  Daniele Delpeuch (she was President Mitterrand's private chef). The fat in the meat that helps it keep. In fact, in France they will keep duck or pork confit under a full cover of fat in the fridge for months. The flavour of the terrine really takes a couple of days to develop fully. You can certainly eat it within 1-2 days but I have kept it very successfully in the fridge for 10 days.


Donelle writes: Hi Annabel,

Firstly, thanks so much for the great show. It's about time we had a kiwi cooking show of this calibre!! I love to cook and have earned a bit of a reputation with my family and friends for baking and decoratingcakes. Up until now, I have always baked a classic chocolate cake and even though these go down well, at the end of a birthday party, when everyone is totally 'over stuffed' a lighter cake such as a sponge is probably a better idea. 

And here is my problem,  I have not had any success with baking a chocolate sponge. Mine seem to resemble slabs of concrete rather than light as air sponges!!

Please help!!

Annabel replies: Dear Donelle
I am guessing that maybe you are adding too much flour or too much cocoa to the mixture and that's what is making it heavy. If you use the Fielders sponge recipe on the back of the cornflour packet and substitute 1/4 cup of the flour for cocoa you should get a very light result. I often add a couple of tablespoons of melted butter just to make the sponge a bit more moist, but if you add too much it will make the cake heavy. Hope this helps