Thursday 28 March 2013

French Patisserie for Tea Time Treats

I haven't participated in Tea Time Treats before. The blog event hosted by Karen from Lavender and Lovage and Kate from What Kate Baked has been on my radar for ages (Suelle is a frequent participant) but somehow I've never got around to it myself. I either haven't been doing a lot of tea time-appropriate baking, or I don't think of the theme in time to get a post up, or I just can't think of anything I want to bake.

But this month I saw Karen's announcement that the theme was French bakes with plenty of time to think about what to make. Somehow I still couldn't narrow it down and made two, a sweet and a savoury, just to hedge my bets.

My savoury treat was a saucisson brioché - the fanciest possible sausage roll. This is a dish that has intrigued me for years, but I have always been deterred by Elizabeth David's extremely long recipe and warnings that "One should not perhaps expect this dish to come exactly right the first time".
Saucisson brioché having a second rise

I decided that, as I am now a reasonably experienced baker of yeasted breads, I could have a go. I didn't follow Mrs David's recipe. Converting from imperial measurements just seemed like taking too much of a risk. So I used the Hairy Bikers' recipe with references back to French Provincial Cooking for method. Mrs David's advice that the sausage should be warm but not hot when wrapped to prevent a gap opening up around the sausage seemed like a good tip. And I saw a tip somewhere else that brushing the sausage with egg before wrapping it would also prevent the sausage splitting away from the dough.
Just out of the oven

I did both, just to be on the safe side.

I felt that the Hairy Bikers' recipe ended up with a very low sausage to brioche ratio, and I knew that Paul would definitely prefer more sausage. So I used two large Montbéliard sausages and left them as free-form loaves rather than putting them in a loaf tin.

And I have to say I was delighted by how they turned out. The brioche dough turned two sausages into a meal for four, and as part of a tea time spread or picnic could easily serve six. And it wasn't nearly as difficult as Elizabeth David said it was.
The sausage clung beautifully to the brioche. A sharply dressed salad is a good accompaniment

My sweet French patisserie treat took rather more twists and turns before it came into being.

I knew I wanted to make choux pastry. I haven't made it in years (um, possibly 20 years? I think I was a teenager last time...) and I thought it was about time I had another bash. But aside from that I was undecided - eclairs? Religieuse? A Gâteau St Honoré? Eventually I decided that the easiest thing to do would be a sort of Paris-Brest.
That terrible moment when choux looks like shit before it all comes together

The flavouring also took a bit of thought. A traditional Paris-Brest is filled with praline-flavoured crème pâtissière but I didn't want to go down that route. My favourite filling for eclairs and religieuse is coffee but inexplicably not everyone likes coffee.
Piped and ready to bake

In the end, Ocado had a "free breakfast offer" which included a large punnet of strawberries and a "bundle offer" on butter, cream and cheese, so I chose to fill my choux with strawberries and cream. And then gave it a little almondy kick to both the pastry and the filling.
After baking I split it in half and returned it to the oven to dry out a bit more

Strawberry and Amaretto Paris-Brest (serves 4-6)

Choux Paste (n.b I use metric cups - so 250ml)

1/2 cup water
30g butter
pinch salt
1/2 cup plain flour
25g almond meal
1tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs


300g strawberries, hulled
juice of half a lemon
4 sheets of gelatine
1/4 cup icing sugar
200ml double cream
1tbs amaretto
100g strawberries, extra


1/4 cup caster sugar
1tbs water

Bring the water, butter and salt to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan, then tip in the sifted flour all in one go. Beat like a madwoman with a wooden spoon (still on the heat) until it comes together in a smooth ball. Remove from the heat and add the almond meal and vanilla extract, then flatten out in the pan and leave to cool for 10 minutes.

At this point it will be looking lovely and you will be feeling quite smug. All that is about to change and you need to ride it out. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. It will curdle and look dreadful. It will. But continue to beat like a madwoman and it will all come together and be smooth and glossy and perfect.

Pipe a circle onto a baking paper lined tray and bake at 200C for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 180C and bake another 15-20 minutes or until well-risen, lightly browned and quite dry.

Cut in half horizontally and return to the oven for a few more minutes to dry out properly and leave a good sized cavity for filling.

Puree the 300g strawberries (I used a stick blender in a tall measuring cup) and strain. I didn't use a really fine sieve so there were still a few seeds in it. Soak the gelatine sheets in water for a few minutes. Bring the strawberry puree and lemon juice just to a simmer, then add the squeezed-out gelatine sheets and stir until the gelatine has completely dissolved. Add the sifted icing sugar and amaretto and taste for sweetness (I left it quite unsweet, you may want more sugar and a little more booze) and allow to cool and thicken. When cool but not completely set, fold into the whipped double cream and refrigerate for half an hour.

Either pipe or spoon mounds of mousse around the base of the choux ring (I had quite a bit leftover because I didn't want to over-fill it to the point where I couldn't slice it to serve) and top with the remaining strawberries, sliced. Top with the other half of the ring.

At this point you could just dust it with a bit of icing sugar but I decided to give it a bit of a croquembouche-y flourish with some toffee. I almost added some sparkly sugar pearls too but decided that was a step too far. But suit yourself.

Dissolve the caster sugar in the water over a low heat and gently bring to the boil, swirling the pan rather than stirring it. Boil until it turns a lovely golden colour, then dribble over the top of the paris-brest. As you dribble the toffee will start to harden and pull into threads, which is very pretty and if I was better at that sort of thing I would have made more of a feature of it.

Serve reasonably promptly - if you refrigerate the toffee will deliquesce, but it can sit happily in a cool place for a couple of hours.

Monday 25 March 2013

Soft Roti

Hot water dough, resting
I've been really happy with the yeasted flatbreads I have been making recently. My naan and pita are fluffy, flexible and delicious. They have pretty much displaced rice in our meals.

Paul has been particularly happy with my naan, because not only does he enjoy eating them, he's been getting all sorts of kudos at work with his Indian colleagues for having a wife who makes her own naan. Sweet that there is that sort of rivalry but just a little bit stuck in the 50s, no?
Still-warm dough brushed with a little melted butter and rolled into a sausage.

But for a recent curry meal I didn't want to make naan again. Partly because I was out of strong white flour so I wanted a bread made with softer plain flour. Partly also I wanted a challenge. I have made roti in the past and haven't been entirely satisfied with them. They've been a bit heavy, a bit leathery, not the light, puffy flakes I think they should be.
Roti waiting to be cooked.
I rootled around on the internet and found this recipe for Amma's soft roti, which I thought looked like just the thing. Now, this family is South African Indian, so these may not be "authentic" Indian roti as some things do get slightly changed with time and displacement. The samosas that Paul gets nostalgic about from a Cape Town childhood are not very much like Indian samosas at all.
Puffing up like a good thing.

So, this bread was completely delicious and successful but if your Indian grandmother didn't do it the way her Indian grandmother did... please be understanding! I don't have an Indian grandmother's experience to call on.

I think my rolling technique still needs a little work, as some of my roti weren't proper rounds, and I also need to work on getting the temperature right to ensure an even cook.  But the hot water technique and rolling the dough into a sausage definitely made a roti that I was proud to serve.
Glistening with a little extra butter

Friday 22 March 2013

Two pastas for The Shape of Water - Cook the Books

Last month my mother guest-blogged her entry for the current round of Cook the Books, our happy little foody online bookclub, hosted by Deb, Rachel, Simona and Heather. And now it is my turn.

Despite my mother's evident enthusiasm for them, I hadn't previously read an Inspector Montalbano book, although I think I have seen some episodes of the TV series. I was looking forward to The Shape of Water to see what (other than the food) there was about these books that people rave about.

But... I didn't really get it. I mean, Montalbano comes across as an attractive man, and I liked the slight moral ambiguity of his role. It was the writing that got in the way. I wasn't sure if it was because the translation was awkward or if it was just the problems of a first novel in a series that takes time to develop. After all, I love Terry Pratchett's Discworld but the first one in that series is dire. I got lost in the labyrinthine relationships and bureaucracy (although that could well have been deliberate) and in many of the conversations I had to check and double check who was saying what.

I'll have to read another to really decide how I feel about it.

In trying to decide what to make, inspired by The Shape of Water, I knew it had to be pasta. I love pasta. I don't eat it as often as I would like but it really is my favourite food. If I had to exclude all but one starch from my life, I would wave goodbye to rice, bread and potatoes and cling to pasta. I had so many ideas that I ended up making two dishes.

My first was inspired by a properly Sicilian dish, pasta alla Norma. This is also a dish that my mother makes a lot when her eggplant bushes are fruiting heavily, so it seemed apt. Instead of sticking to the classic tomato and aubergine version, I gave it a bit more heft and spice with 'nduja (Calabrian sausage but since Calabria is just a short hop across a narrow strait from Sicily I bet you can get it there) and some roasted yellow peppers. It was delicious, although possibly a bit too spicy - I got a little carried away with the 'nduja.
Penne rigate - the ridges are just the thing to hold the oily, spicy sauce

My second dish took a slightly more fanciful journey. I'd been thinking about making fesenjan - that lovely Persian dish of poultry, walnuts and pomegranate because I happened to have duck legs, some walnuts and half a pomegranate. But I also really wanted to eat pasta. I rationalised that Sicily was under the control of the Byzantines and Arabs for a long time, and they do have a tradition of agrodolce sauces so a Persian feel would not be completely out of place.

Rather than just tossing pasta through a Persian stew, I decided to bring a bit more Italian flavour to the dish. I slowly roasted two duck legs, basting them with pomegranate molasses from time to time, then stripped the flesh from the bones and cut it into chunks. I made a very lemony (Sicily is famous for lemons, right?) walnut and sage pesto. I cooked my fettucine, reserving a cupful of the nice starchy cooking water, and then I tossed the pesto, cooking water and chunks of duck meat through the drained pasta back on the heat. I stirred it until the duck was heated through and the pasta was thoroughly coated in the pesto. Then I garnished it with pomegranate arils to provide more of an agrodolce burst. I was extremely happy with how it worked out. The pomegranate and lemon provided enough acidity to balance the rich duck and walnut, and the sage provided a nice earthiness that tied the walnuts and duck together. And of course, pasta always makes my heart sing.
Fettucine with duck, walnuts and pomegranate

Wednesday 20 March 2013

Tate and Lyle Tasting House

Yesterday I was invited to an extraordinary event to launch the new Tate & Lyle range of fairtrade golden and brown sugars. Today I am living off the lowest GI food I can find, washed down with paracetamol and water as I struggle with a monster sugar headache. It was worth it though.

What they've done is take an old house on Dean St in Soho (just next to Blacks. Where I've spent several happy hours that I don't entirely remember) and decorate each room with sugar craft and baking, using the new sugars. As I wandered through the rooms I heard one superior young person sniff "Oh, it's just a corporate launch" - and yes, this is a corporate launch of a product that will be on sale in Very Big Shops for actual money and I was invited to attend by a PR agency. But so freaking what? It was very clever and very pretty and I totally drank the Kool Aid. I'll talk about the actual sugars another day - this is going to be all pictures of the amazing craftsmanship involved.

The Mayan-themed basement:

A sacrificial pyramid made of fudge
Pots of coins, fudge and delicious little macaroons

Skulls and a calendar - presumably recalibrated to show that the world didn't end in 2012
 Up the stairs:
I'm not planning a wedding but I would definitely choose a macaroon tower instead of cupcakes...
I'm hardly germophobic but I did shy away from eating the bannisters.
The Mediterranean bedroom:
Books and throw pillows made of cake. Balloons strewn around as you see them in all mediterranean bedrooms
Meringue hearth-rug
I loved the caramel corn bath
So much food colouring...
 Guyanese inspired room:
Apparently the giant turtle was made of sponge - I didn't want to be the first to cut into him. The eggs filled with cake and buried in the demerara "sand" were fun though
 Barbados inspired library:
The florentines in the box at the bottom right were delicious
Hand-painted shell cookies

The cookies on a mobile
 Mississippi inspired room:
6' long King Cake - which I thought was a Louisiana thing, but I guess that is on the Mississippi Gulf?

The feathers the cake was decorated with were gorgeous
The South Pacific inspired room
Not quite life-sized, but still huge
Wouldn't have believed it was cake without the trepanning
 Caribbean inspired room:
Lots of sugar coral and gingerbread doubloons
So, maybe Pirates of the Caribbean rather than Caribbean-inspired

British inspired parlour:
This was the room with the business-end of the tasting
Lorna Wing expertly guided the tasting. She was not made of cake.
The iconic Tate & Lyle logo didn't translate well to cake. Looked deceased rather than rampant. Those are bees! (edited to add - I have just been informed that the logo IS a dead lion. So this was very well done!)

Willow pattern vase...
... the baker may have been cursing the humidity, but I appreciated the chance to see, yes, it is cake.
The tea cups contained Long Island Iced Tea. Which I don't normally drink but did because of this article about snooty New York bartenders.
Sugar spoons

All manner of petit fours and candied fruits. I sadly didn't get a picture of the doughnut tower.
Cakes and edible decorations by Nevie-Pie Cakes, Two Little Cats Bakery, Sarah Hardy Cakes, Cake for Breakfast, Carina's Cupcakes, Dan P Cartier, All Mine Patisserie (that's their facebook page, couldn't find a website), Lou Lou P's Delights (also facebook page), Rosalind Miller, Juliet Sears/Fancy Nancy Cakes, The Meringue Girls, Conjurer's Kitchen and Cakeadoodledo.

The Tasting House is open until Friday, I think, and the sugar is in supermarkets now.

Monday 18 March 2013

Meat free Monday: baked eggs and chickpeas

Just a quick little meat-free dish today - spicy tomato sauce-bathed chickpeas, topped with goats cheese, with a surprise baked egg in the middle. Substantial and really delicious.

Baked eggs and chickpeas (serves 2)

1tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1tsp chilli paste (Gran Luchito, chipotle in adobo, harissa, sambal oelek - whatever you like)
1 can crushed tomatoes
1tsp tomato puree
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 eggs
Goats cheese or feta

Saute the garlic in the olive oil and add the tomatoes, chilli paste and tomato puree and cook for a few minutes until the sauce is quite thick. Taste for seasoning.

Divide between two oven-proof dishes and make a well in the centre of each. Crack in an egg and top with some cheese. Bake at 180C until the egg white is cooked (because of Paul's preference for well-done eggs I cooked this for about 20 minutes - but it doesn't need that long).

Saturday 16 March 2013

Lamb kofta wraps

This isn't so much a recipe as the assembling of three different recipes - the pita, the kofta and the salad. But they do work very well together. Soft, fluffy but flexible fresh pita, spicy little lamb kofta and a roast cauliflower and feta salad were just made to be together.

The salad was based on this one, but I sprinkled the cauliflower and tomatoes with a little balsamic when it came out of the oven, and then tossed them and the feta through some salad leaves with a little mulberry molasses. It was a great way to use up some cauliflower.

Then for the kofta I followed this recipe. Although I didn't have any mint leaves and I only did a half quantity and I used gran luchito for the chilli paste.

The pita was just my usual 220g strong white flour, 30g rye flour, 1 sachet yeast, salt, olive oil and water mixture. I had the dough ready to go when I started to fry the kofta, and cooked the pita while the kofta cooked. So it was all ready at the same time and was just perfect.

An excellent sandwich to send to Deb for Souper (soup, salad and sammy) Sunday.SouperSundays

Thursday 14 March 2013

Oxtail and red wine pie

It's that time again - when even the most hardened devotee of day/month/year date expression adopts American month/day/year for the convenience of Pi Day. I don't think I will be doing too much celebrating of mathematics but I did make a celebratory Pi Pie.

It's oxtail, so it needs a long cook and it's a bit of a fiddle. And the pastry takes a while too, although it isn't at all difficult. You could, I suppose, make this all on one day, but that would make this much more stressful and pressurised. A gentle two-day process with all the enjoyment separated from the labour is much more my style.

I took inspiration from Lisa's additions of cinnamon and chocolate to the meat and they really did make a delectable rich gravy without tasting sweet. And I'd been planning to do a simple shortcrust base and (bought) puff pastry topping, but then Dan Lepard published this recipe for a red wine and mustard crust over the weekend, which was obviously just the thing.
Not the prettiest stew but one of the tastiest

The filling came first. I browned some lovely meaty segments of oxtail in a tiny splash of olive oil (this pie is so rich it does NOT need lots of oil, plus there is enough liquid to loosen all the stuck-on bits). Then veg, wine and stock and into a slow oven for a long, long time.
Dan Lepard's red wine & mustard rough puff

While that was happening I made the pastry. The egg yolk and strong flour make it very easy to handle, and the smell of the wine and mustard in it was lovely. The fact that it was arctic in the kitchen probably helped keep the layers of butter separate.
Layer upon layer upon layer, as the Sara Lee ads used to say

When the meat was falling off the bone, I removed it from the pot and as soon as it was cool enough to handle, stripped every little bit from the bone. It was much hotter near the bone than I expected, so my initial estimate of "cool enough to handle" resulted in burnt fingers.

The meat went back into the pot with a little dark chocolate and a lot of halved mushrooms and black pepper and was allowed to cool.

Then the following day when the filling was coolly jellied and the pastry beautifully rested, it all came together.

I glazed it with eggwhite and decorated it with pi to 30 decimal places. I had 40 written down just to be on the safe side.

Unfortunately, due to my very successful pastry rising hugely, some of the definition in the decoration was lost. It was, however, a really delicious pie. I think next time I will do my usual shortcrust base and just have the rough puff on top, and reserve the rest of the fancy pastry for some sausage rolls or something.

Oxtail and red wine pie (serves 4-6)

1 quantity red wine & mustard pastry
small splash olive oil
1.5kg oxtail
100g diced panceta (or pancetta or bacon)
1 onion, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stick cinnamon
250ml vegetable stock
250ml red wine
10g dark chocolate
200g mushrooms, halved or chopped
Black pepper
1 eggwhite (if you haven't got one reserved from making the pastry)

Brown the oxtail in batches in a little oil, then add it back to the pot with the panceta, onion, celery, carrot, cinnamon, stock and wine. Scrape any stuck bits into the liquid, and bring to the boil. Cover and cook on a low heat for 4-5 hours or until the meat is really tender. Remove the meat and the cinnamon stick from the braising liquid. Discard the cinnamon stick and strip the meat from the bones as soon as they are cool enough to handle. There are lots of little nobbly bits which make this a bit of a chore. You could use 800g of ox cheek instead if you don't fancy a fight.

Return the meat to the pot with the braising liquid and add the chocolate, mushrooms and a lot of pepper. There should be enough heat left in the sauce to melt the chocolate. Taste for seasoning - between the panceta and the stock it really shouldn't need any more salt.

Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight (or just leave it at the back of the stove if it is as cold in your kitchen as ours was this week).

The following day, roll out 2/3 of the pastry to line the pie dish, pile with the filling, then roll out the remaining 1/3 for the lid. Glaze with lightly beaten egg white and cut a little hole in the top to allow the steam to vent a bit.

Bake at 180C for 45 minutes. Serve with a very simply cooked green vegetable - maybe steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon juice.

It really was a very delicious pie. The pastry is quite subtle - it has a distinct savouriness but it isn't at all a strong wine and mustard flavour. It worked really well with the rich dark meat in the filling. This is definitely a pie to serve hot; oxtail loses much of its charm as it cools.


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