Saturday, 27 November 2010

Crostata for the Daring Bakers

I seem to have been quite lucky so far with the daring bakers challenges. Most have been things that I have either made before, or ones that I have eaten and been interested to make for myself.
This month's crostata was no exception.

You know, of course, that Italian food my passion and my forte, so a crostata was a dessert well within my comfort zone. Although I'd never made 'pasta frolla' before, I have eaten it prepared several ways in Italy, so I felt as if I knew what to expect.
I was not disappointed with the recipe and had fun deciding what to fill my crostata with. As it happened, E came home last weekend and we enjoyed a fantastic family meal. M and D made a delicious chestnut and butternut squash soup/stew and I provided a bruleed raspberry - creme fraiche crostata and a cherry cobbler (recipe to follow).
We gourged ourselves on decadent desserts and tales of Paris in Autumn. We left jealous of her adventure and promising to visit when we could.

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

Bruleed Raspberry and Creme Fraiche CrostataPasta Frolla
100g caster sugar
235g unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
115g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
grated zest of half a lemon
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl
200ml creme fraiche
100g caster sugar
4 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2tsp vanilla extract
400g raspberries

Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5. Place a baking sheet in the centre of the oven.
Grease a 25cm loose bottomed flan tin with butter.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pasta frolla to 5mm thick.
Using the rolling pin to help you lift it, transfer the pasta frolla into the flan tin, pressing gently into the edges. Don't worry about trimming the edges, just let them fall over the sides.
Carefully remove the now hot baking sheet from the oven and place the flan tin onto it.
Line with greaseproof paper and pour baking beans over this.
Bake blind in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes until the pastry is just cooked and golden.
When the pastry is cooked, remove everything from the oven and very carefully, remove the baking beans back to their container and set them aside to cool down.
Turn the oven down to gas Mark 4.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche, sugar, eggs and vanilla until well combined.
Scatter the raspberries over the cooked pastry base.
Slowly pour the creme fraiche mixture over the raspberries.
Return the crostata to the oven for another 30-40 mins until the creme fraiche custard is golden and set.
Cool on a cooling rack.
To give a brûlée effect, scatter a few tablespoons of sugar onto the top of the crostata once it is cool. Use a blowtorch to caramelise the sugar until it is golden and bubbling.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ponte vecchio chocolate mousse

This post is also a little overdue I know.
As promised, here is the recipe for the Octobers special dessert. It is heavy in components, but delicious as it melts in your mouth. I like the cold granita against the smooth mousse and then the crunch of a spiced biscuit.
Actually, give me any dessert with a biscuity element and I'll order it.

It was a popular pudding. In fact, the whole of last months specials menu was incredibly popular; we surprised a lot of people with a creamed leek and smoked haddock pasta - something that could become a permanent fixture next time we play wound with the menu.
However, it was the coarse cut pate of belly pork, smoked bacon, thyme and calvados that had people talking. I don't think we've ever sold so many portions - over 70 - and neither have we ever decided to repeat a special so quickly - it is putting in another appearance next month on the Christmas menu.

I have a lot of fun coming up with specials each month. At least 10 experiments and ideas get discarded everytime. Sometimes I can modify my experiments and use them the following month, but just as often, I miss my chance to use a seasonal ingredient and have to file away the idea for the next year.

You can imagine, I've got quite a full notebook!

For the biscuits follow this recipe here, being sure to add 2tsp of ground mixed spice with the flour. Cut the biscuits into circles large enough to make a lid for the mousse serving glass. Cut another hole into this lid to make a slot for a spoon to slide into. Cook as described.

For the pear granita
2 ripe pears
90ml water
30g sugar

Quarter, peel and core the pears. Dice into 1cm pieces and put in a pan with the water and sugar. Cook for just under ten minutes until the pears are soft.
Cool completely.
Puree the pears and any cooking liquid until smooth.
Pour into a dish and place in the freezer for two hours. After this time, stir a fork through it to break up the frozen pieces. Repeat the process every hour until you have a dish of fine coloured crystals.

For the cranberry granita
100g cranberries
100ml water
75g sugar
30ml juice from an orange

Place the cranberries, water, sugar and orange juice in a pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil.
Remove from the heat and leave, covered, for 30 minutes.
Blend the mixture until smooth.
Sieve to remove all the skin.
Freeze as with the pear granita; stirring regularly with a fork.

For the mousse
100ml milk
250g mixture of plain and milk chocolate
300ml double cream
3 large egg whites

Scorch the milk over a medium heat in a saucepan.
Meanwhile, break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl balanced over a pan of gently simmering water. It is best if the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Overheating the chocolate will cause it to go lumpy, so as soon as it starts to melt, turn off the heat but leave the bowl in place.
Whip the cream so that it forms soft mounds rather than peaks. In other words it should not be too stiff. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.
When the chocolate is completely melted, remove from the heat and pour the warm milk on to it through a sieve. Stir the chocolate and milk together till velvety.
Scoop the mixture on to the stiffly beaten egg whites and fold gently together with a large metal spoon.
Now fold into the softly whipped cream. Scrape into a serving bowl glasses and refrigerate for three or four hours till set.

To Assemble
Pile a little of each granita onto the top of each mousse.
Top the dessert with a biscuit lid and stick a spoon through before serving.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A Simple Lunch that took a Long Time to Prepare

Yet another recipe that I've had lurking for a few weeks but not rushed to put up. I don't know why. This was delicious, and well worth the huge effort that I had to put into making it.

I'd only once prepared globe artichokes before this occasion, and I'm sure I remember it being easier than it was. But don't let me put you off having a go for yourself. The results are delicious and unlike anything you'll have made for yourself before. I promise it's worth the effort.
I found a really good tutorial for preparing them here. Be sure to watch the video of the Campo di Fiore (a beautiful Roman market famous for its artichokes) seller - I wish I could do that!

Sage and Onion Stuffed Globe Artichokes

2 globe artichokes, trimmed and cut in half down the middle
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
6 sage leaves, finely chopped
100g breadcrumbs
250ml vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.
Put the artichokes into an oven proof dish and pour thestock over them.
Cover with foil and bake in the centre of the oven for 40 minutes.
Heat the olive oil in a medium frying pan and add the onions. Cook for 8 minutes over a medium-low heat until just translucent and add the garlic. Cook for a further 3 minutes.
Finally, add the chopped sage and cook for a further minute before removing from the heat.
Off the heat, stir in the breadcrumbs and set aside until the artichokes come out of the oven.
Stuff the artichokes with the stuffing mixture and replace the foil lid tightly on top. Cook for 15 minutes with the foil lid on, and then another 10 minutes without the foil lid.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

A Craving for Custard

You'd think that with the amount of custard I make at the restaurant for ice creams, that when I get home I would be ecstatic not to have to stand over the stove, whisking away for dear life praying that the viscous, yellow liquid doesn't curdle.
Actually, I find all that whisking to be very theraputic and I can easily loose myself in my thoughs while I wait for the mixture to thicken. Once I've tested it one the back of the spoon for thickness, an immense satisfaction comes and I put the beater down and smile.
Besides, this is generously filled with creme patissiere - a richer French custard to the traditional English custard.

This is something that I made for us to eat one hot Sunday evening several months ago now, when I was able to pick up all of the fruit at the farmer's market.

Miniature Tarte aux Fruits

For the sweet pastry
500g plain flour, plus extra for dustingSieve the flour from a height on to a clean work surface and sieve the icing sugar over the top.
100g icing sugar, sifted
250g good-quality cold butter, cut into small cubes
zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs, beaten
a splash of cold milk
For the creme patisserie
300 ml milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
50g granulated white sugar
20g plain flour
3 tablespoons corn flour
For the fruit and glaze
As many mixed berries, kiwi or other fruits you feel necessary
125g apricot jam
1tbsp water

Using your hands, work the cubes of butter into the flour and sugar by rubbing your thumbs against your fingers until you end up with a fine, crumbly mixture. 
Mix in your lemon zest.

Add the eggs and enough milk to the mixture till you have a ball of dough. Flour it lightly. Flour your work surface and place the dough on top. Pat it into a flat round, flour it lightly, wrap it in clingfilm and put it into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 5.
Grease a 12 holed cupcake tray.
After the pastry has rested, roll it out to 4mm thickness on a lighty floured surface and cut out circles to match the size of your cupcake holes on the tray.
Gently press each pastry disk into the greased cupcake moulds and cover with a small square of baking parchment. Place a few ceramic beans in each and bake blind in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden and cooked through.
Leave to cool in the tray before turning the pastry cases out to be filled. Store in an airtight container until needed.
In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a wooden spoon. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and then add to the egg mixture, mixing until you get a smooth paste. Set aside.
Meanwhile in a saucepan combine the milk and split vanilla bean on medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling. (If the mixture does curdle slightly, pour through a strainer.) Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds, and add the seeds to the egg mixture.
Place the egg mixture back into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 - 60 seconds until it becomes very thick and it is hard to stir.
Pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming. Cool.
If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days. Beat before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.
Heat the apricot jam or preserves and water (if using) in a small saucepan over medium heat until liquid (melted). Remove from heat and strain the jam through a fine strainer to remove any fruit lumps. (If using, add the liqueur at this point.) Let cool until it is only slightly warm.
Spread a thin layer of apricot glaze over the bottom and sides of tart to prevent the crust from getting soggy. Let the glaze dry for about 20 minutes.
Spread the Pastry Cream into the tart, filling about 3/4 full and levelling with a palette knife.
Decorate the tart with the fruit, arranging it neatly or randomly as you desire.
After arranging the fruit, rewarm the glaze, if using, and gently brush a light coat on the fruit. Do not put it on too thick or it will look like Jell-O. Try not to get any glaze on the tart shell. The idea is to make the fruit look shiny. If not serving immediately, refrigerate. Take out about 30 minutes before serving to give the fruit and cream a chance to warm to room temperature.
This fruit tart is best eaten the same day as it is assembled.