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Tuesday 31 August 2010

Pie of the Month - August

So the good news is that I made a pie this month, and - woot! - on time.

Further wonderfulness: I also made the jam to fill it, and have a recipe for that to share with you as well.

However, with joy comes sorrow, and it is with regret that I inform you that I have to post the recipes out of sync (owing to the fact that it is today the thirty-first of August, so jam must come second or I'll be late with the pies again and you'll all think I'm slack), and also with poor photos (as seems to be standard these days on Delicious Delicious Delicious).

On the whole, I run through life with that most sacred of mantras 'Never apologise, never explain,' and it usually serves me well. However today I feel that some small explanation will help you understand why the photos look rushed and haven't been edited. You see, we went camping on my only two days off this week. There simply wasn't time to sort out pictures for this post and get everything else done before leaving. Messing about on the computer would have robbed me of the vital minutes it took me to floss; I'm not sacrificing good dental hygiene just so my pictures look nicer.

Neither should you.

Now, today's pie is crostata. I have written before about how much I love eating crostata for breakfast when in Rome, but haven't ever thought of it as a pie before. Nigella Lawson says it is though, so let's go with it.

The method she gives in How to be a Domestic Goddess is for a kind of cake-like pastry dough, made with whole eggs. This is not the same kind of crostata that I am used to, which has a firm pastry and a lattice top. But readers: is the word 'cake-like' not enough to make you want to try this out?

I couldn't find suitable tart tin, but remember Francesco telling me years ago that his mother makes crostata in an upturned lid belonging to a Pyrex oven dish, so decided to follow suit.

The result is seriously delicious, and just as good as anything I've eaten in Italian coffee bars. The only thing I would do differently is to smooth out the jam before baking, which Nigella says not to do. Mine didn't spread so much, meaning that the crust of my crostata was enormous. To eat, this was superb, but from an aesthetic viewpoint, I would prefer a narrower pastry border.

Make this. It means you get to eat pie for breakfast. How good is that?


You will need:

75g butter at room temperature
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
zest of 1 lemon
1 jar of your favourite jam (I used homemade blackberry, recipe to follow)

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 C. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
  3. Sift over the flour and baking powder, and fold in to the egg and butter mixture. Lastly, add the lemon zest, and fold it in well.
  4. Using a spoon, spread the dough into your chosen receptacle - a 20cm tart tin, or a Pyrex dish of similar dimensions are perfect for this amount. Leave the edges a little thicker than the centre, to allow for a good crust.
  5. Spoon the jam into the centre of the tart, and spread almost to the edges with a knife.
  6. Bake for 35 minutes, or until lightly browned at the edges. Serve cold, with coffee.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

Maple-Cocoa Macarons

I think Ms. Humble said it best: 'Swiss Meringue Buttercream? Yes please!'

I know you'll think me lazy for posting another version of a recipe that I have done before, but quite frankly, I needed something suitably beautiful to banish the pie trash that was hanging around on the front page of my blog, and quick sticks. As it happens, I missed the good light anyway, and am less than happy with the photos, but stopped short of actually killing myself as penance. What can I say? You get, at least, to look at a pretty blue passion flower and a vintage sugar bowl with blue roses. Look for the positives in life!

By the way, that passion flower is the last one I am ever picking. Last year, when we moved into our place, the garden was literally covered with them, and I got a bit passion flower happy. You know, filling old coffee tins with them to brighten up the kitchen, attaching them to gifts wrapped in newspapers and tied with old cotton twine. That's right; Mr. P can come over all Homes and Gardens when the mood takes him.

Anyway, the point is, they don't like being picked. The vine hardly flowered at all this year, and from what I gather, it is because I picked so many last year. Oh, and pruned it to within an inch of its gnarled, woody life in the Winter. (Well, it looked dead!)

So readers, if you want abundant passion flowers on your vine, don't pick or prune. A little free garden advice, brought to you by Delicious Delicious Delicious.

Now, let us return to the case in hand: macarons. I should tell you that although I am going against my usual policy of 'No chocolate, chocolate is boring', and am not revising said policy (at this stage), it has been proven to be rather counter-productive in this particular case. Chocolate flavoured macaron shells are really fantastic! Cocoa is one of the few ingredients that can drown out the almond flavour almost completely, meaning you get a macaron that tastes 100% of what it should. It also colours the macaron batter naturally. OK, it colours it brown, which is not the most exciting colour in the world, but still... Nothing artificial - a macaron you'd be happy to give to your children.

The filling is Swiss meringue buttercream that I had left over from a layer cake in the freezer. If you yourself ever go Swiss, I really recommend sticking a few spoons full into a plastic freezer pot to use as a mac filling. Brought to room temperature, all you need to do is stir with a spoon until the buttercream is smooth again (which took about two minutes), add extracts, and you are good to go. Apart from anything else, the amount of filling used to put macaron shells together is really small - why would you ever bother to make a ganache?

If there are any mac doubters left out there: get over it. I have two work colleagues who now routinely make macarons, and they, like me, are not trained pastry chefs. (That's a lovely idea though: pastry chefs moonlighting as flight attendants! ) You can do this. Even if you can't get a passion vine to flower.

Maple-Cocoa Macarons

You will need:

110g icing sugar
50g ground almonds
1 tbsp cocoa
60g egg whites, aged (left in a glass on the kitchen counter for a few days)
40g caster sugar
Swiss meringue buttercream, flavoured with maple extract
  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment, and prepare a piping bag with a plain nozzle.
  2. Sift the icing sugar, cocoa and almonds together.
  3. Beat the egg whites and caster sugar together until stiff peaks form; fold the sifted cocoa mixture into this meringue. Don't be shy - you can be heavy-handed and this will still work.
  4. Scrape the batter into your piping bag and pipe small rounds onto the parchment, well spaced. From this amount of batter, I get 30 shells, though mine are quite large.
  5. Rest the piped shells for half an hour and pre-heat your oven to 150 C.
  6. Bake the shells for between 11 and 13 minutes. There is guess work as to when they are perfectly done here - sorry. Cool on the sheet, then remove to a wire rack.
  7. Sandwich the shells with the buttercream, and mature in the fridge for a day or so before eating (at room temperature).

Thursday 12 August 2010

Pie of the Month - July

I am starting this post with a picture of some tarts from my local patisserie
(yes, we have one in Cathays!). You need to at least see something pretty on here today.

Fail Pies. Bin Pies. Awful Tarts. You can call July's pie whatever you like, just don't attempt to eat them.

Remember this? Well, I am learning from Judy's bravery and coming out with the truth. Just don't judge me, OK? This isn't going to be pretty.

July was a VERY busy month for me. I had no time to bake anything at all, and as a result, there were few blog posts, and no pie of the month. I also didn't get a chance to make Sanjana's lamington recipe for Lamington Day on 21 July, which is doubly awful because I wanted to try making srikhand.

Anyway, I had it all planned out. I was going to make some pandan egg custard tarts, like the ones I always order in Chinese bakeries. Turns out that you need special mini-tart moulds which are shockingly over-priced in Cardiff, so I decided to just wing it with a mini muffin tin I use for mince pies at Christmas. Oh, and to use pre-made puff pastry.

(If this were an episode of Air Crash Investigations, now would be the point at which the narrator chillingly announces that 'Although the flight crew don't yet know it, the seeds of disaster have already been sown...')

I am not even going to give you the recipe. Or talk about this anymore. I am just sorry that I wasted some of my lovely pandan extract and delicious eggs on this rubbish.

Learn from this people. July is not for pie.

But August will have one, and I shall be back next week with macarons!


No food styling for these. As if they're fit for anything but the bin. (Actually, we did eat them.)

Monday 2 August 2010

Cooking Fears: Genoise Cake and Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Life is too short to wear cheap shoes. It's also too short to drink cheap wine, but most people already know and agree on that. I have a feeling though that you might not be with me on the shoes, so allow me to explain my thinking. Please.

I always flinch when I see the cost of footwear in shops. But when you consider how long you'll wear a good pair of boots for, and how frequently, the cost per wear falls quickly. I bought some brown leather ones in New York a few years ago, and messed up the exchange rate (read: I was schmoozed into buying them by the very friendly shop assistant, and didn't bother to work it out). It was only when my Mastercard bill came the following month that I realised my error, and told myself that I was going to have to wear them at least three times a week over the next three years to make them cost effective. Fortunately, they combine impeccable style with unbelievable comfort and I have not once regretted the purchase. Unlike my cheap sandals from Muji which gave me a blister that took a month and a half to heal. Vile.

One strawberry, or many? It's a tough decision to make.

They have met with the fate of untold numbers of well-heeled Cardiffians' shoes though: worn down soles. It's all this traipsing around on Victorian paving slabs.

Anyway, I thought they were ready for the bin, and was distraught. I'm not in a position, financially speaking, to be chucking money around at the moment. New shoes would mean reverting to my lentils and rice diet, and I had enough of that last month. So I had them re-heeled, which was a first for me. And readers: it should be a first for you too. I have new old shoes, and at a bargain price.

Rewarding first time experiences are great. Like making genoise cake, and Swiss meringue buttercream. I had put it off long enough. I would no longer be slave to my fears. Just because I don't have a Kitchen Aid, does it mean I can't make these things? They both pre-date the stand mixer after all.

Genoise. Nude. Shock!

Rose Levy Beranbaum helped me out on this one. I can't tell you enough that you should buy her book. Buy it. Buy it. Buy it. It'll change the way you bake forever. And it's really cheap on Amazon right now.

Proof that I did this without a stand mixer. What are you waiting for?

Life is too short not to make genoise cakes and Swiss meringue butter cream. Get on it.

Genoise Cake
(from Rose's Heavenly Cakes

You will need:

50g melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
5 large eggs at room temperature
125g caster sugar
66g plain flour
60g cornflour or potato starch

Optional jasmine syrup:

60g sugar
60ml water
1 tsp jasmine extract

  1. Grease and line a 24cm cake tin. Flour the sides too. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Warm the butter: if it contains lots of residue (using unsalted will limit this), pass it through a strainer. Add the vanilla, and pour into a small bowl.
  3. Bring a sauce pan of water to a simmer and place a heatproof bowl over it. To the bowl, add the eggs and sugar; stir until just warm to the touch.
  4. Remove the bowl from the heat, and beat the egg mixture with electric hand beaters on high speed for at least 5 minutes until it has more than quadrupled in volume.
  5. Sift together the flour and cornflour. Remove a little of the egg mixture and whisk it into the bowl with the melted butter and vanilla and set aside.
  6. Working quickly, fold in half of the flour mixture into the egg mixture and once it is incorporated, fold in the rest.
  7. Scrape down the bowl to insure all the flour has been incorporated and then fold in the butter mixture. Immediately pour into the prepared cake tin.
  8. Bake for 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the sides begin to slightly pull away from the pan.
  9. Make the syrup: heat the sugar and water in the microwave until dissolved; add the extract.
  10. Once out of the oven, turn out the cake onto a wire rack immediately. Cool completely before brushing with the syrup, and icing with strawberry meringue buttercream.

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream
from (Martha Stewart's Cupcakes)

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
175g butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla
100g strawberries

  1. Purée the strawberries. Set aside.
  2. Place the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture feels warm to the touch. Remove from the heat.
  3. Beat the egg whites and sugar for 10 minutes until stiff peaks form.
  4. Add the butter a little at a time and beat in.
  5. Beat two minutes more, and then add the purée. Mix in and use immediately, or keep in the fridge for up to three days.

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