Posts in Recipes
Nonna’s kitchen: biscotti

 

Saturdays and Sundays were for visiting and visitors. And church. That’s just the way it was. Ritual, expected, understood. The cakes were baked and the tables were set. Friends and neighbours knew the rules. This is what my Nonna said. Cakes were good for visitors one expected and biscotti was good for the unexpected type.

Think about it. You bake a cake. It’s got to be eaten fresh, as close to the hour of baking as possible but biscuits... no, you could make a batch of biscuits and they would last weeks - should they need to.

Nonna’s simple biscotti has a firm place in my childhood memories. A constant place. Ever present. Always in the cupboard and always on the table at any gathering. They aren’t fancy and that’s what makes the perfect kind of unexpected visitor biscuit. They aren’t intimidating or show-offy. They are the perfect accompaniment with tea or coffee and people don’t feel decadent in eating one or three.

Watching Nonna’s small capable hands make them is a privilege. Watching her get out the special board to roll them (probably not necessary but that’s the way it’s always been done). Listening to her tell me that the dough reacts differently in different seasons. In summer you need to work quickly and in winter she would work in the warmest part of the day. It’s imperative that the dough is very soft - she uses butter in summer and margarine in winter.

Attempting to understand and learn how to roll the correct thickness of dough and then shape them into and S or a bow. Adding the egg wash so that they come out of the hot oven shiny and golden. These are important things. Very important things.

This is her recipe.

Her origional recipe in her curled and precise handwritten Italian.

Biscotti con vino dolce/ Sherry biscuits 

250g burro/butter or margarine (summer/winter)

1 tazza zucchero/cup sugar

2 uove/eggs

50 ml vino dolce (Sherry) or 2 cucchiaini vanilla/ 20ml Sherry or 2 tspn vanilla

1 tazza corn fleur/cup corn flour

600 - 800 grammi farina /4 cups of self raising flour

Heat oven to 180 degrees

Sift three and a half cups of plain flour and cornflour into a bowl.

Cream butter and sugar, add sherry or vanilla.

Add eggs one at a time.

Fold in flour until it forms a pale dough.

Kneed the dough well on a smooth surface . Add the second half a cup of flour.

The dough must be soft.

Form the biscotti and lay on baking trays. They will rise a little so don’t put them too close.

Glaze generously with a beaten egg or two.

Pop them in the oven for 14mins fan forced.

Popcorn and surviving home/alone

My New Year and geographic relocation has brought with it a chance to work from home. What some view as an exciting opportunity others see as a living hell; I guess I sit somewhere in the middle leaning precariously towards the former. By chance another member of my family has, in a way, found himself in the same position although his comes in the fortuitous form of early retirement. Despite the different reasons and workload within the boundaries of our home/work environment I can see, in his behaviour, a real battle with the unstructured nature of the typical weekday.

The last time I took a journey down this road it was over a three month period during an English winter. The expense of heating resulted in a decision to attempt to survive without said heating for six hours over the middle of the day. Not the easiest task when it was snowing outside.

It did however, in a funny way, help me create a structure to the day built around keeping warm. My day became a carefully scheduled mix of percolators of bubbling hot coffee, exercise, a hot shower, hot lunches and steaming hot tea and  wrapping myself in a woollen clothing and/or blankets. It was a bit ridiculous but it became a challenge to get through the day without feeling the cold. At one point I actually went running while it was snowing.

In fact I’m starting to think it was less of an experiment in what kept me warm and my day structured and more a demonstration of my slow drift into insanity. However, I did really enjoy it and one of my favourite cold weather snacks was popcorn. And my love of popcorn continues in my current work/home environment.

Tips and hints for a good crop of popcorn.

  •  Always start with fresh corn (if it’s been sitting in your cupboard for a year or two it ain’t going to work)
  •  Make sure your pot has a lid.
  •  Pre-heat your pot (make sure your pot is hot before you put your corn in)
  •  Don’t forget the fat (whether it’s oil or butter you need something, but only a little of it, to get a good puff to your pop)
  •  Don’t over load the pot (Once the fat is heated pour in enough corn to cover the bottom of the pot, one layer only. Too much and all you’ll be left with is burnt offerings)
  •  NOW listen to the popping – the best bit apart from the eating – the pops will become less and less as the pan fills with popped corn.
  • Once you think it’s all popped take the pot off the heat but leave the lid on and listen. There will always be one or two pops to go.*

Plain, salted or sweet it’s a sensorial delight. The popping, the aroma and finally, and most satisfyingly, the taste.

*Warning: There will always be one or two kernels that won’t play fair and remain unpopped. You may be tempted, like me, to gnaw on the unpopped kernels – do so at your teeth’s own peril.

Lukpah extraordinaire!

In a room butted up against the Monsoon-swollen River Ganges in Varanasi I think back to the eight-day bone-dry trek from which I have just returned in India’s northern province of Ladakh. India’s ample size means that in the 15 or so days B and I have been in the country we have already experienced the ends of the extremes. From Dehli’s immaculate new, post-Commonwealth Games airport and security-tight air-conditioned Metro system to their fetid waste and slum-dwellers and the humid chaos of the Old Town. Then on to the provincial capital of the Indian Himalayas, Leh, with it’s western hippies and adventure-seekers, Tibetan refugee traders and its landscape dotted by Buddist Stupas and Gompas. And now back down to wet, wet Varanasi.

Our trek took us up and over 5000mts twice within the eight days, both feats of which I barely (only ever so slightly melodramatically) survived and in turn did much better than others, yet in all likelihood won’t be repeated in my lifetime. Depending on who you talk to the journey through the Markha Valley is an ‘easy’ trek, or something that should only be attempted by experienced walkers with ‘all the gear.’

For me, it was HARD! But very enjoyable. A reasonable part of this enjoyment is the responsibility of one man – Lukpah, our trek cook. I know, you thought I was going to say B, don’t worry, he also contributed significantly to my survival as did our trek guide, not to mention the incredible scenery.

I don’t need to tell you that eight days of walking is hard work even if there were ponies to carry our camping accoutrements (clothes, sleeping bags etc). But whatever hardship we felt at the end of the day it ALWAYS paled at the sight of Lukpah putting up tents, scrubbing pots, brewing our tea, preparing veg for supper.  Day-to-day he travelled, often walking, the route we took with his camp kitchen and all the ingredients packed up on the ponies only to arrive at our next stop to settle, set-up, make us tea and prepare a 3-course supper. And how!

We were warned at the start of our trip that he was the ‘best cook’ in the organization but this really didn’t sink in until the evening of the first day when, after a restorative fresh mint tea and biscuits set on a makeshift table-clothed chest. We were then presented with a meal of steaming hot soup with spicy popadams, followed by two curry dishes, pilau rice and fresh cucumber salad and pudding. This was definitely a precursory sign of things to come. The following nights produced a dexterous array of cuisine including decoratively presented chop-suey, a fantastic chilli-paneer, macaroni-cheese, tempura spicy fried aubergines and capsicum rings, steamed sponge pudding and even a respectable pizza. Lukpah was up cooking us a hearty breakfast as well: a particular favourite being fried home/trek-made bread. The highlight for me was supper on day seven, delicious Tibetan momos.

Much like a dumpling or dim sum, momos are small, thin pastry cased parcels of vegetable, or vegetable and cheese, or vegetable and meat that come as a steamed or fried variety. And they are deliciously served with a slightly punchy tomato sauce.

What is to be applauded really is cooks that, like Lukpah, do a truly great job under conditions that many would deem unthinkable. Lukpah’s kitchen consisted of two kerosene flame stoves, a chopping board made from the cross section of a tree trunk, a steamer, an array of tin bowls, plates and pots of various sizes and a very sharp knife. He cooked in the squat position, which I’m sure he is very used to, but having tried it I myself I found almost impossible for any length of time. His selection of arrayed ingredients had to last 8 days without refrigeration (we had temperatures fluctuating between 20 degrees to -5). He was also sensitive to the purpose of the trek providing ginger tea for relief at altitude and rice pudding when B’s tum decided to give him some jip. Cooks and chefs who work in these kinds of conditions deserve to be celebrated.  So here’s to Lukpah – camp cook extraodinaire!

Vegetable and cheese momo

I observed Lukpah making these from scratch in a darkened and really quite cold tent on top of a mountain. Various livestock, cashmere goats and mountain cows, peaked in while he was cooking only to be shouted abuse at in Hindi. NB: I hope the quantities are correct but the recipe remains untested until my return.

 For the casings

2 handfuls of flour (300g)

2 cups of water (400ml)

For the filling

¼ small cabbage (finely chopped)

2 carrots (grated)

100g grated cheese

2 tbl spn butter

For the sauce

5 tomatoes

50ml tomato puree

1 tspn coriander powder

Salt and pepper

Utensils

Steamer bamboo or other.

  1. Grate carrot and cabbage into a bowl.
  2. Score the bottle of the tomatoes with an ‘X’ and place into a pot of boiling water for a minute or so until the skins start to peel. Remove from water, peel off skins a chop finely then set aside.
  3. Put the flour in a bowl and slowly add the water combining as you go to form a firm dough.
  4. Prepare steamer by boil water and oiling the surface on which the momo will be places (to prevent sticking).
  5. Fry off the carrot and cabbage mix in a little oil till it’s wilted but not dry. Add the grated cheese to the pan and stir, remove from the heat.
  6. Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and coriander powder to a small pan over a medium heat and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Tear off walnut sized pieces of dough into a bowl with a dusting of flour.
  8. Roll the dough very thin, place in the centre of your palm and fill with a teaspoon of carrot and cabbage mix. Firmly pinch the sides of the momo together and place in the steamer 2 cms apart in the cen ready to be rolled thin and stuffed with filling.
  9. Steam for 10-15min and serve immediately (or fry in a little oil if you prefer the fried version).

Brown cheese PLEASE!

If it’s one thing a Norwegian loves, almost without fail, it’s a slice or three of brown cheese - or brunost. Some compare it to vegemite/marmite, declaring it a love-it or hate-it affair, but I don’t think it contains nearly as much potential for offence as either of those local delicacies.

It’s called brown cheese because that’s the best way to describe it: a creamy caramel brown colour, with a smooth texture and a mildly cheesy flavour. It has a sweetness that’s quite pleasing and helps make it a snack for any time of the day or night. Breakfast brunost on toast with jam, lunchtime brunost for that little sweet craving after a sandwich or for an anytime snack – mid-afternoon, after dinner… Needless to say they eat A LOT of it.

Head to the local supermarket and you’ll find a fridge full of brands and consistencies. But what is it?

Gleaned from the expert and no doubt precise knowledge of Wikipedia (check for yourself) brunost is the result of a process of boiling goat and cow’s milk, cream and whey to the point where the water evaporates and the sugars caramelize. This gives the brunost its sweetness.

A lighter treatment results in a substance that shares similarities with something closer to a spreadable cream cheese.

Now the BBC  tells me that ‘brown cheese’ isn’t cheese at all, technically, but why change the habit of a lifetime and nation?

I always get quite excited at the prospect of a week or so of brown cheese eating when I come to Norway but I wondered if there was anything more to be done with this very particular substance.  It being a sweet ‘cheese’ I though that the natural conclusion would be cheesecake. This, apparently, wasn’t a conclusion anyone in the household had come by but they were enthusiastic in their support. We gave it a shot and I’m happy to report the experiment had pleasing results, although I think some of the natives were humouring me with their complements and will continue to devour their brunost  in a more traditional manner.

If you can find some brunost outside of Norway give it a try.

 

Brown cheese cheesecake/ Brunostkake

250g choc top digestive biscuits

50g butter

400g cream cheese

300g prim (soft brown cheese)

½ cup icing sugar

¼ lemon

 

Melt the butter in a small pan. Use a small amount to brush onto the 20cm round springform cake tin.

Crush the digestive biscuits to a fine sand-like crumb in a mixing bowl and add the remainder of the melted butter and mix though thoroughly.

Press the biscuit mixture on the base of the tin and refrigerate.

Beat the cream cheese until light creamy. Add the Prim and lemon juice beat till combined.

Sift in the icing sugar and mix.

Pour onto the biscuit base and smooth evenly over the surface. Refrigerate overnight.

Serve with foraged raspberries – if you’re lucky enough to have them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rolf’s first date blue cheese pasta

B and I have been coming to Norway to visit friends for years now. Each visit is a treat and a delightful distraction from the bright lights of London. Our friends live in Hakadal, “the most beautiful place on earth”, a little hamlet 45min north of Oslo. This is said with tongue firmly planted in cheek but in truth it is stunningly beautiful and we wake each morning with a view of the surrounding mountains. We eat brown cheese for breakfast, go for long walks in the surrounding hills and generally enjoy the wonderful company of good friends, their children and extended family, friends and pets.

Rolf is the man in a house of women, although he’s dominance had been challenged with a recent arrival. Still, his prowess in the kitchen is incomparable. He knows, for instance, the absolute optimum temperature to pre-heat the oven in order to cook the perfect frozen pizza. And don’t even get me started on the fish balls!

The story goes that this was the first dish Rolf prepared for his wife when they were dating, and to this day it is cooked on every one of our visits to their lovely home.

Rolf’s first date blue cheese pasta

Serves 4

150g blue veined cheese (Rolf uses Costello Blue)

1 tbl sp plain flour

2 tsp salt

1 good dollop of cream

1 good dollop of milk

400/500g spaghetti

1 knob of butter

 

In a large, pot boil some water for the spaghetti adding a good pinch of salt.

Heat small saucepan and add the cheese to melt. Keep stirring making sure it doesn’t burn.

Once cheese has melted add the flour and keep stirring.

Add spaghetti to the boiling water – Rolf likes to break it in half.

Add the cream and the milk to the cheese sauce and stir. Once combined take off the heat.

Once the spaghetti is cooked to al dente, drain and place in a serving bowl.

Serve the pasta and the sauce separately at the table so that your guest can choose just how much they would like.

 

I took the notes for this recipe as it was prepared on the first night of our recent visit and like all true gourmets Rolf was a little hazy on the exact quantities. “You know when you are experienced as I am,” he says modestly,  “but too much salt and it’s not tasteful, “ he adds.

In truth it is a tasty and simple pasta dish, which we will continue to look forward to on every visit.

Thanks Rolf!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, Monday

Bah-da bah-da-da-da Bah-da bah-da-da-da Bah-da bah-da-da-da

Monday, Monday, can't trust that day Monday, Monday, sometimes it just turns out that way Oh Monday mornin' you gave me no warnin' of what was to be Oh Monday, Monday, how could you leave and not take me

Every other day, every other day Every other day of the week is fine, yeah But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes A-you can find me cryin' all of the time

We hold this truth to be self-evident: Monday is the most rotten day of the week. Maybe you are an optimist, or perhaps you do a job that you love, but I’d still challenge if you said you’ve never had a bad Monday. If you have had a primary education, if you ever had a job solely for the funds it provided, if you’ve ever taken a week of holidays only to return on a Monday – then you know the feeling I am talking about.

A week ago I awoke to find myself firmly entrenched into one of those Mondays. Mondays of packed public transport, empty bottles of milk, spilt tea and butter-side down burnt toast. The Monday I was facing wasn’t even particularly bad looking on paper. There was an event at work that took me away from my desk and emails, it even had a free lunch thrown in. But when one of those Monday’s finds you there is almost nothing that will bring you round, except sleep and Tuesday.

The only balm that will soothe on such a day is comfort food. I don’t mean junk, at least not for myself, I mean food that fills, food that makes you feel happy, that hugs you and says it’s OK and it will be Tuesday soon.

It may be a good mac’n’cheese, or a toastie with all the trimmings, perhaps it’s a bowl of pasta or meatballs to your Nonna’s recipe, or miso, or nice big creamy curry. Mine would probably be any of those things but the memory of being greeted by my Mum’s fresh banana bread after school is especially comforting. I made this bread on Monday and as the smells of baking banana wafted through the flat I felt better instantly.

The sad fact is that Queensland, as with the rest of Australia, is going though it’s second banana drought in five years with the reported price of banana being up to AU$18.99 per kilo! Friends have tales of banana starved cravings of going out to the shops in rabid delight to buy and savour one single banana at the price of AU$2.99. But they just HAD to have it.

Luckily I’m not a huge fan of the yellow devil but if I didn’t have access to the beloved banana I would miss Mum’s banana bread.

Banana Bread (a la Mum)

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 cups S.R.flour

3/4 teasp. bicarb.

4 or 5 mashed bananas -*"mature " ones are fine.

 

Mix or blend thoroughly.

Put in a loaf tin.

Bake in a mod. oven - 150 deg. C - for an hour.

Slice when cold and spread with butter if preferred.

 

Lucky you to have cheap bananas!

Love from

Mum

*NB: “Mature” means black – almost to the point where you can pour them out of their no-longer-yellow skins.

Eat more clafoutis!

B and I have been taking art classes with a lovely and very talented gentleman since early spring. It's been a fantastic treat to spend such a good amount of time one-on-two with a tutor with such experience. I haven't taken art classes since high school but I enjoyed them then as much as I do now.

The British summer seems well suited for prolonged periods of concentration and creativity. Nothing gets too hot or too cold and in summers like the current one, there is little rain.

The other wonderful thing about our art classes is that they take place in a family home, full of art and memories and the most intriguing trinkets. We sit, we talk, we learn and on most occasions most we have a leisurely lunch of salads and antipasti, bread and hummus or some such dip. It's time out.

I always like to contribute something to the repast and cakes or pudding of some sort seem to go down very well. As it's summer and you can get bowls of ready-ripe fruit for a quid most street corner stalls I could help but grab a bowl of deep red, juicy cherries from Berwick Street in Soho. And all this talk of Petersham Nurseries had me poking around in Skye Gyngell's second book My Favourite Ingredients for a cherrie clafoutis recipe I had spied.

OK, so I struggle to pronounce the thing correctly but it's still delicious and can be made with the summer fruit of your choosing. I guess it's kind of a big fruit pancake.

60g/21/2oz unsalted butter 500g/16oz of sweet cherries 100g/31/2oz caster sugar 1tsp of kirsch The grated zest of 1 lemon 2 medium eggs, separated 3tbsp plain flour 1tsp vanilla extract 120ml/4fl oz double cream 1tbsp ground almonds A little icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Grease and flour a 23cm (9in) baking dish. Melt the butter in a pan over a gentle heat and, when the butter is foaming (but not coloured), add the first 100g (31/2oz) of sugar, lemon zest and kirsch. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. When finished, the cherries should be tender when prodded with a fork.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together (ideally in an electric mixer) until light and airy. Fold in the flour and vanilla extract and the ground almonds. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites gently into the batter until just blended.

Pour the cherries into the tin. Pour over the batter and bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes or until the batter is puffed and browned. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

To serve, dust with icing sugar and put on a plate with a thick dollop of unpasteurised cream.

 

 

 

 

Spring, at last.

Spring and International Women’s Day has brought the memories of someone from my past flooding back in my mind.

She.

Was my boss.

Was a great cook and style queen.

Was deeply unhappy most of her life.

Was Iranian – although she called herself Persian.

Is greatly missed.

It’s a funny one really, I spent only a year under her employ but working v. closely through a v. tough time in her life. Consequently, we knew each other v. well but by the time I left to pursue a ‘dream job’ temping at the Independent Newspaper (later to become full-time) we didn’t speak for another year or more and then only briefly. Our relationship burned hard and fast and then there was nothing left but memories.

But what fantastic memories!

Having grown up in Iran before the revolution, as the member of an aristocratic family, she had v. refined taste in fashion, men and food but she also knew the value of life and freedom. She wanted, and usually got, the best but she also had a great talent for creating something out of nothing as well.

She deserved better than her lot in life but it was also her choice.

Anyway back to the good stuff. Her finesse was in the detail. If she did something she did it with care and perfection. And this is how I would describe her madeleine’s – the joyous mouthful sized French cakes. As an Australian of the Italian persuasion I had missed out on this little delicacy, and being introduced to it was such a joy.

The wee shell-shaped cakes go so well with tea (or coffee) I really don’t know why they aren’t more widely celebrated.

Ingredients:

¾ cup of flour

1 teaspoon baking power

3 large eggs

A pinch of salt

100g butter melted

1 teaspoon of vanilla essence/or not

1 tablespoon of rose water

½ cup caster sugar

Instructions:

1.       In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

2.       In a separate bowl beat eggs and caster sugar until combined well and light in colour. Add vanilla essence.

3.       Fold in the flour mixture. Fold in the butter a little at a time. Chill for 30 mins (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP)

4.       Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees C/425 F/Gas mark 7 and place rack in the centre of the oven.

5.       Butter and flour your madeleine tray and dollop the mixture into moulds – half full! Do not over fill as they should rise quite high.

6.       Bake for 5 mins at 220 degrees C/425 F/Gas mark 7 then reduce heat to 200 degrees C/400 F/Gas mark 6 – this makes the little cakes rise up and then cook though with only slight tan.

7.       Turn out on a cooking rack shell side up to avoid ruining the shell pattern.

8.       Repeat for the remaining batter - pop batter back in the fridge between batches.

Makes 28 depending on tray size.

* original recipe from Martha Stewart

She would make them with orange flower water or a touch (literally a touch otherwise it tastes like soap) rose water. She would dust them with icing sugar and hand them out, packaged in glistening clear plastic bags, to her favourite people. I was so lucky and honoured that I happened to have been one of them. At least for a bit.

RIP

 

Excerpt from "Remembrance of Things Past" by Marcel Proust

… when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. … this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. …

 

 

 

The extraordinary three course pie supper

To welcome in British Pie Week I decided to fulfil one of my lifelong cuisine based ambitions – A three course Sunday supper consisting only of pie. I realise this may seem like a slightly odd ambition to most people. I mean, learning now to bake a croissant, make your own fresh pasta, bake a three tier cake – all these are wholly more sensible and probably useful but a three course pie supper it was for me. The pie is such a versatile dish really – it was in the name of science that I test this theory.

Now of course we all know that British Pie Week is entirely an invention of marketing. Other such culinary celebrations include British Sausage Week, Love Chip Week, Bacon Connoisseurs' Week… are you seeing a trend? I’m pretty sure it’s a PR company that ordains these things but if it inspires you to try a new recipe or simply enjoy a big social meal with friends and family there are worse things in the world really, aren’t there?

Pie was my aim, and in a vain attempt to assert some authority on proceedings I went in search of a definition. Unfortunately I could only find Wiki and Collins.

Wiki says: pie dish baked in pastry-lined pan often with a pastry top.

Collins says: pie n 1 a sweet or savoury filling baked in pastry.

I know this doesn’t exactly assert the authority I was hoping for but it’s a start. I do however realise there is a bone of contention over whether pies need a bottom or not. I personally prefer a pastry bottom on my pies – it’s something about the juices combining with the glutinous dough that delights me. The discussion around the supper table was that they were perhaps wholly unnecessary ‘wasted calories’, that a pie can be just as enjoyable without a bottom as long as it has a top. As you might expect all of the pies featured on the three pie supper menu had bottoms and tops.

The other important consideration was pastry. Filo, puff, shortcrust, oil based, water based – it’s a whole world of decision making and that’s without bringing potato into the equation. As I enjoy pretty much all pastries I tried to fit as many variations into the menu as possible. Two homemade and two shop brought.

Accordingly the menu developed as follows:

1st Pie– Salmon or King Oyster (eryngii) filo w/ caper butter

2nd Pie – Torta Pasqualina (c/o Helen Graves of Food Stories) +  Vegemite, Beef and Ale Pie (c/o Katie Quinn Davies of What Kate Ate )

3rd Pie - Chocolate Hazelnut Pithiver (c/o Delicious Magazine April issue)

First pie – This course I found the hardest to choose. Knowing what was to follow I didn’t want anything too heavy but the pie had to be something to get the tastebuds excited. Filo and salmon was the conclusion, a small nod to an all-time fav, the Fish Pie. Baked in caper butter and enveloped lovingly in filo, it perhaps wasn’t what most would recognise as pie but it did conform to the rules of play. For the vegetarian I swapped out the salmon for King Oyster mushroom pre-fried in a little butter. Both served with a squeeze of lemon, it had tummy’s grumbling for more!

Second pie – As an Australian it would be impossible to host a supper devoted to pies and not include the typical steak, mushroom, ale option. As soon as I saw Katie Quinn Davies, of What Kate Ate, Rustic Beef and Ale pie I was in love. And for bonus points it included Vegemite! The overall result was delicious even if I underestimated the seasoning because of the vegemite factor. I subbed in Hot Water Pastry for the recipe based puff. I really wanted that stand alone effect you get with pork pies.

Second pie (veg option) – Veg pie can be a bit of a tough one I’ve found although the Canteen cookbook does have some excellent options including, cheddar and shallot and an excellent root vegetable version. They have a recipe for Summer Tomato and Basil I am dying to try when it finally gets to picnic weather. When I saw Helen Graves, of Food Stories, Mighty Pie I had to try it. Ricotta (I did the more traditional version) and spinach are a classic combination but the addition of artichoke really gave it the extra oomph it needed. Like most egg dominant pies it took just that little bit of extra time in the oven but the result was tasty and satisfyingly pie-y. The most rewarding part of cooking this pie however was the pastry. Those not keen on kneading would probably disagree with me but the olive oil based pastry had the firm, cool, smooth texture of marble (without the hardness obviously).

Third and final pie – Obviously we were full to the gills by this point. But as I’d pre-baked the dessert pie and had it sitting on the sideboard when my pie-eaters arrived it could not and would not go by the wayside. I spied this recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Pithivier in the April issue of Delicious Magazine. Unbeknownst to me this puffy pie’s origins lie in France, although the provenience of the combination of dark chocolate, hazelnut and rum for the filling is a little unsure. Despite this the Pithivier style of flat pie works well as a vehicle for this rich and solid filling. Served slightly warm with the suggested whipped cream it was declared a “Pieumph” by my cousin and fellow pie baker and eater Angela.

Overall I would have to say I would not recommend a three course pie supper on a regular basis but what the night did prove was the combination of pastry and filling does work exceedingly well. As a once a year celebration why not? And if you don’t fancy constructing one there are plenty of places to indulge this week – or any week!

 

 

Wedding peaches

Memories are funny elusive things aren’t they?  How the mellow and change over time, forming and reforming to produce something you swear you remember exactly as it happened.

When I was a child growing up in Brisbane the food from the Italian side of my immigrant 2nd generation Italio/English family stood apart from that of some of my classmates at school. My Nonna lived up the road, still does, and would be first in line for babysitting. I grew up with her baked version of risotto and didn’t realise it could come in its more porridge-like form until I was 20. Lasagne and ravioli were frequently served for supper – always the home made version. But there was one lady in our extended family who was the queen of baking – cakes, biscuits, waffle like creations, desserts anything sweet and sponge-like! My brother and sister and I knew that visiting Zia would mean cake – every time.

My memory is dull on the detail of what specific occasion when these cakes was served but boy, do I remember the cakes themselves. *The* most exquisite little creations I had ever seen. Peaches, actual peaches made out of soft sponge with a leaf and little chocolate coated liquorice stems. I kid you not! There were perfectly confectioned peaches, or at least they were to my juvenile eyes. Plumb and sweet with a sunny blush on one side – I remember them like a dream.

So when my partner and I decided to take the plunge and do ‘the wedding’ thing I could think of no better way to commemorate the occasion in cake than these little creations. Unfortunately my dear Zia had passed away earlier that year and taken her baking secrets with her and so we had to experiment ourselves. Five practice runs later and we had an approximation of her beautiful peach cakes but I still, and will always, remember Zia’s as utterly perfect.

Zia Faustina’s pesche dolci (makes approx. 24 depending on the size of you moulds*)

For the cakes:

75 g butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1-½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 tbl spoons baking powder

90 ml milk

1 tbl spoon of peach brandy/liquor or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 bunch of fresh healthy looking mint

For the custard:

3 egg yolks

½ cup of sugar

¼ cup flour

1 cup of milk

2 teaspoons peach brandy/liquor or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tbl spoon butter

For the coloured sugar coating:

2 cup caster sugar

Red food colouring

Yellow food colouring

2 jars or containers with lids

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 F/Gas mark 4
  2. Cream butter and sugar together until pale yellow and add eggs. Mix well.
  3. Sieve in flour and baking powder and add salt. Mix well.
  4. Add milk and peach brandy or liquor (or vanilla if you’re sans booze).
  5. Mix well.
  6. Prepare your moulds by greasing and flouring them – you want the peach cheeks to remain un-blemished.
  7. Using a dessert spoon carefully drop one spoon of mix into each mould – do not over fill!
  8. Bake for appox. 10-15mins keeping an eye on them – remove when slight raised and just starting to colour on top.
  9. Gently turn out (you might need to use a spoon to coax them out of the moulds) onto cooling rack.
  10. Take a sharp knife and working your way around the circular edge of each cheek careful remove the sharp edge. Finally cut an angled wedge slice off the flat bottom of the cheek.

For the custard:

  1. Combine the all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a low heat until combined.
  2. Stir! Stir! Stir! This could take while but the slower the better – you don’t want it to burn. You need the custard to be quite a thick consistence to cold its shape inside the peach.
  3. Set aside to cool.

For the coloured sugar:

  1. Put 1 cup of sugar into one jar along with a few drops of red colouring. Then the other cup into the other jar along with a few drops of yellow colouring.
  2. Shake the jars with all your might until the colour is evenly distributed. Great fun!
  3. Pour a little of the yellow sugar into the red jar and shake some more – you need a pink peach colour – this isn’t an exact science.

Assemble!

  1. Set up your construction surface with the coloured sugars spread on a plate or shallow bowl, squirt a little red colouring onto a small sandwich plate and have the cake cheeks and custard within easy reach.
  2. Take one peach cheek and, with your finger, dab a little red colouring on one edge of the curved surface (to imitate a sun blush). Don’t worry if it looks a little odd right now it will blend once you’ve coated it in sugar.**
  3. Roll the curved surface in the pink and yellow sugar until you have a covering resembles a peach (you may want to have a real peach on hand as a model).
  4. Do the same with the other side mirroring the blush colouring.
  5. Now take one half, and with a teaspoon, dollop a spoonful of custard in the middle of the ‘pit’ of the peach cheek.
  6. Using the other cheek work the custard to imitate a cut piece of fruit.
  7. Pop in the mint leaf stalk and set aside.  (if you’d like to use choc coated liquorice instead now’s the time)

*I sourced my peach moulds from a specialist cake supply shop in Richmond-upon-Thames but I have also seen larger versions at profession chef supply shops.

**To make these little beauties extra boozy you could paint the insides liberally with liquor before assembling the peaches.

RecipesAnne Giacomantonio