Category Archives: Pastries

Gazelle’s Horns and Fiesta Friday: a party with a sugary snowstorm

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Out of your forehead branch and lyre climb,
and all your features pass in simile, through
the songs of love whose words, as light as rose-
petals…

The Gazelle, Rainer Maria Rilke

The party starts at ten to three.
On the second floor, room twenty two
two co-hosts who had come down from Crewe were wondering just what to wear,
to the shindig going on down there.
They collided, both decided to put on Dame Edna frocks,
this was not a ‘do’ for cassocks or for smocks.

Fiesta, a SG travesty, with apologies to John Edward Smallshaw

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This pastry is pretty, graceful, messy (if you add a snow of icing sugar as I did). Its names (for the variations of this pastry), in English, Arabic, French, are exotic, pretty, alluring: gazelle’s ankles, gazelle’s horns, kaab el ghazal, tcharek el ariane, tcharek el mssaker, cornes de gazelle.

I saw one variation of this pastry on Linda’s blog, La Petite Paniere, and it went to the top of the baking list. Almonds, orange blossom water, vanilla, cinnamon, and more orange blossom water, can you smell the gorgeous smells?

I used a different recipe from the NYT archives, because it used far less butter in the pastry and avoided a late-night dash to the shop (and here’s a butter-less version). The NYT recipe probably produced a pastry that is less melt-in-your-mouth than Linda’s butter-ful one. Instead, the pastry was shattering-crisp, and scatters icing sugar in all directions when you bite into one.

Messy, and fun, especially at work with colleagues trying to protect silk blouses and ties from the sugary snow storm.

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And a sugary snow storm always makes a party better, yes? That is why, as your Fiesta Friday host this week, I’m bringing a few trays of these pastries to crank up the party vibe a notch. If you haven’t been to a Fiesta yet, please do! It’s a lovely bunch of peeps that bring tantalising food, drinks, DIY, sausages, Harry Potter theme park photos, and lots of bloggy love.

Your co-host Margot and I, we’ve even dressed up for this party. Because the only thing better than a sugary snowstorm is a sugary snowstorm on fancy costume. Right my possums (and gazelles)? Ps, don’t you think Dame Edna’s glasses look a little bit like gazelle’s horns? Coincidence? I think not!

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An imagined pie, lost splendours and a Sicilian timballo (macaroni pie)

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Update: recipe added!!

Recently, work has been intense, crazy-good-intense, plus I have been cooking for friends: lingering, laughing, food-laden, wine-tinted dinners where people meet old friends and make new ones. All of which means I’m catching up on the blogosphere this weekend.

The good thing about cooking for a bunch of friendly guinea pigs friends is that I can foist “out there” dishes on them. And unlike a family Christmas lunch, I run less risk of offending the mother-in-law-of-cousin-in-law.

Dishes like a macaroni pie from the novel The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

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Like the Triumph of Gluttony, the idea of the pie has haunted my imagination since I read the book years ago:

“When three lackeys in green, gold and powder entered, each holding a great silver dish containing a towering macaroni pie, only four of the twenty at table avoided showing pleased surprise.

Good manners apart, though, the aspect of those monumental dishes of macaroni was worthy of the quivers of admiration they evoked. The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of the sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a spice-laden haze, then chicken livers, hard boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suede.”

Yes, another dish from a book, another Sicilian recipe. Must be something in the water there.

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Mo’ fabulous mango tarts

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It’s Angie’s Fiesta Friday, and Saturday is the Mardi Gras parade – a time of unicorns and sequins and more colour than you can poke a rainbow at. A bank here has decked out some ATMs to become GAYTMs, including this Village People wannabe:

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(Speaking of ATMs, just read about a bitcoin ATM in Singapore. Them crazy kids in Singapore.)

I was on my way to Angie’s fiesta with a platter of mango tartlets. Wanting to be mo’ fabulous, the mango tartlets tried this:

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I managed to convince them that, while they looked great, giving party goers a hairy mouthful is not the way to foodie stardom.

So they went back to being plain ol’ mango tarts. And I’m wearing the mo instead (kinda itchy…want to sneeze…how do guys do this??)

So mo’ve over people (geddit??), the fabulous tartlets are in town.

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This is just to say, I have eaten the savoury plum tart

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We are not romantic people, Mr Gander and I. You will not find a bunch of roses on my desk on a certain February morning (dark chocolate is a totally different matter).

Yet, we buy each other little gifts any time of the year. We hold hands in the street. We laugh at each other’s silliness, but are also considerate, even sweet.

Maybe the first sentence should be, we are not conventionally romantic, pink hearts and teddy bears kind of people. Instead it is the kind of affection that goes ‘to the level of every day’s / Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.’ (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

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Which brings me to this savour plum tart. It won’t leave you in a sugar coma. It is savoury, creamy, the caramelised onions setting off sweetness from the plum slices and the crispy tart shell – all of which makes the tart well worth savouring slowly.

It is equally graceful with warm caramelised onions and plums, or at room temperature when the slivers of basil comes to the fore. You will want to come back to this again.

Kind of like a good relationship – right?

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When cheese pastry meets pineapple jam meets dumplings

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14 February is a super-happy day. It’s the 15th day of the Chinese new year (based on the lunar calendar), and Valentines day. It’s an all-red, all-pink, all-red lantern and tanyuan, all-roses, teddy bears and glitter, kind of day.

Even though it’s way past midnight here, so I’ve kind of missed the boat, this post is for the 15th day of the Chinese new year and Valentine’s Day and Angie’s Fiesta Friday.

Last year, I cooked a CNY feast for, oh, lots of people. It involved, among many, many other things, Beggars Chicken: whole chicken stuffed with savoury delicacies and covered in a clay shell and baked. It was epic.

This year, reeling from Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Australia Day, etcetc, we had a quiet Chinese new year’s eve dinner. To make up for that, I’ve been inventing silly names for everyday dishes. Like Lucky Fortune Golden Dragon bolognese, or Year of the Golden Pig shakshuka (Year of the Golden Pig was 2007, it’s still Mr Gander’s favourite-named year).

It was during this mad, faux-festive period that the cheese pastry pineapple jam dumpling was born.

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Wanted: one egg, for an almond plum tart

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The egg went AWOL while I made a plum almond tart.

The egg rolled under a bunch of herbs, apparently under the impression we were playing hide and seek. It didn’t make a sound while I whizzed the almond mixture together, or while I pressed it into a tart base. It was only after the tart became gloriously golden and puffed in the oven that the egg peeked around some parsley leaves with a discreet Jeeves-like cough.

Oh hello baker, did you want me 40 minutes ago?

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We didn’t take the almond tart to a picnic (I made some muffins instead, wholemeal, with banana-date jam, chocolate chips, peanut butter). But it seemed a pity to have a tart go to waste, so with suitably gallic shrugs, we dug into it that night.

The tart was … surprisingly good. Loose, moist, messy crumbs clinging to sweet, tart, squishy plums. A marriage of shortbread and almond torte. A concoction of ground roasted almonds, raw sugar, cocoa nibs, cardamom, rose water and lime zest.

I’m not advocating that you leave the egg out of pastry from now on, but I may have found a new favourite crumble topping.

I made the tart again last night with pluots, and remembered to add the egg (woot!). The resulting tart looked much more like an almond torte or a simple frangipane, and still had those deep dimples where the plums / pluots sank into the almond mixture. Work colleagues ate all of it within 2-3 hours – so I don’t have a photo of the real tart (and didn’t get a slice myself, hrmph), but I think that means the tart was a success.

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Sicilian mince pie in a tart, frolicking with pasta frolla

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Wednesday was a sweltering day. Not just sunny, not just hot, the air felt like hot porridge when I step out of the air conditioned office. Aussie summer arrived with a vengeance, just in time for our annual Christmas + New Year + January + Summer + because I want to sit and read on the beach all day holiday period.

What does a gal do on a day like that? Fired up the oven of course. I made a Sicilian-esque mince pie tart, in a pasta frolla crust.

Yep, a mince pie in a tart. Other, more worthy souls, have the patience to make cute little mince pie crusts and cut out tweensy stars for the top, but I had reached the ‘let’s do something low fuss’ stage of Christmas preparations.

Sicilian mince pie?

Remember I said I didn’t like Manu’s Buccellato filling as much as the Cuccidati filling from SBS? A little voice in the back of my head kept nagging: “What if you just didn’t make it right? Do you really want to reject Manu’s family heirloom recipe after one flimsy trial?”

That inner voice is usually pretty good on work matters. Seems it can also give advice on food. 

I made Manu’s recipe again, paying more attention to small things, like how finely I chopped the fruit and nuts, how fresh each spice is and whether I should add a little more or a little less.

Turns out, I really like the Buccellato filling, especially with an extra splash of brandy. The first batch was a bit overwhelmed by cloves (because I had an ultra-fresh, ultra-pungent bag). For the second batch, I used less cloves and bumped up the cinnamon. The result was richly spiced but balanced.

The Buccellato filling had me thinking, this could be a Sicilian take on mince pies?

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Pasta frolla

Pasta frolla is a shortcrust pastry that seems to be a staple in almost infinite forms of Italian baking, sweet, savoury, tarts, and of course crostata. When I thought of a Sicilian mince pie-tart, I immediately thought of pasta frolla crust.

The most commonly cited recipe seems to be the one written by Pellegrino Artusi in his seminal work, The Science of Eating and Art of Fine Dining. Artusi gave us the basic ingredients, in precise proportions. While I didn’t use his exact recipe, it’s worth listing here:

250 grams flour
125 grams cold butter
110 grams sugar (icing sugar is the best, or fine castor sugar should be ok)
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
zest of 1 lemon

The website La Cucina Italiana also gives variations on the basic recipe. For example, add egg whites if you want a crispier pastry; add more fat and sugar for a crumblier pastry. I also saw a recipe that uses baking powder, for a puffier pastry, but not sure if that would have Signor Artusi’s stamp of approval.

My current go-to recipe for pasta frolla is a bit of a rebel, from Mary Simetti’s book, Sicilian Food: recipes from Italy’s abundant isle. It uses egg white and lard, as well as butter; it’s extra egg-y; there is less butter/fat, but a little extra splash of white wine helps to bring the dough together.

I love this recipe. The pastry can be rolled out or pressed into a pan, holds its shape, doesn’t seem to need blind baking when using dry-ish filling, and retains a flaky texture even after my manhandling. By adjusting the amount of sugar slightly, I have used it for sweet (like here) and savoury (like generous hand pies with zucchini, caramelised onion and goat cheese filling). A low fuss but showy pastry.

Probably because of the addition of lard, it doesn’t brown as easily as other shortcrust pastries. but brushing the pastry with egg wash or syrup will give you a beautifully browned top.

This time, I topped the tart with random pastry rounds and clumsily hand-cut pastry stars. About 30 minutes later we had a mince pie tart. A tart, from my oven-light-less oven!!

If only the rest of Christmas cooking was as easy.

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Sicilian mince pie, in tart form

(Recipe – if you can call it that – by moi. The filling came from Manu’s Menu, and the pasta frolla from Mary Simetti’s Sicilian Food: recipes from Italy’s abundant isle)

Ingredients

Pasta frolla (makes twice as much pastry as I needed)

425 grams or 15 oz flour (I used 390 grams plain flour and 35 grams cornflour)
2 tbsp castor or icing sugar (adjust and use more or less depending on the filling)
pinch of salt
125 grams / 4 f butter
75 grams / 3 oz lard
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for glazing the pastry)
125 mL / 4 fl oz whit wine

Optional: a generous pinch of cinnamon, inspired by the description of an amazing macaroni pie in The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa….)

Filling (makes much more than needed, but who’s complaining?)

500 grams / 17 oz dried figs, chopped
250 grams / 8.5 oz apricot or fig jam
100 grams / 3.5 oz almonds, chopped
100 grams / 3.5 oz hazelnuts, chopped
50 grams walnuts / 1.75 oz, chopped
50 grams pistachios / 1.75 oz, chopped
200 grams candied cherries, chopped
100 grams / 3.5 oz raisins
100 grams / 3.5 oz candied orange zests, chopped
100 grams / 3.5 oz dark chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp clove powder
1 espresso shot
100 ml / 3.5 oz Marsala or Muscat wine (I found that twice the wine produced a looser, more liquid filling, which was best for the tart as opposed to the Buccellato)
125 grams / 4.4 oz honey

Optional: a splash of brandy (1-2 tablespoons)

Method

1. For the filling: start the day before or up to a few days ahead. Toast and chop all the nuts. Chop the dried figs and candied fruits. For this tart, I found I preferred more finely chopped nuts and dried fruit, as it gave a smoother filling and allowed the flavours to meld together better.

2. Put all the ingredients, except for the chocolate chips and brandy, in a pot, cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Stir well and make sure the wine has moistened all chopped fruit. Let it cool down completely, then add the chocolate and optional splash of brandy. Stir well to mix and keep it aside.

3. For the pasta frolla: start at least an hour before baking, or up to a few days ahead. Sift together the flour, salt and sugar. Use a cool knife, ‘cut’ the butter and lard into the flour, until you get a texture of a coarse meal.

4. Stir in egg and egg yolk. Add just enough wine to bring the dough together. I usually find I use most of the wine. Gather the dough together and place in fridge for at least 30 minutes, and up to a few days ahead (the longest I’ve left the dough in the fridge is 3 days). You can knead the dough for a minute before placing in the fridge, but I find not kneading the dough at this stage reduces the likelihood of over-working the dough when I come to roll it out.

5. To assemble the tart: Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Butter a rectangular loose based tart pan. Either roll out the pasta frolla and press into the tart pan, or take chunks of the pasta frolla and press into the pan. Chill for about 30 minutes for the pastry to firm up. I pressed the dough directly into the pan as it saved rolling and was a little easier on a weeknight. It was less perfect but still looked fine.

6. Spoon the Buccellato filling into the tart pan, smooth the top of the filling as well as you can, using a fork or the back of a spoon.

7. With the remaining pastry, cut out rounds of pastry, or make random shapes of pastry. Add to the top of the filling, press down slightly. Whisk the leftover egg white slightly and glaze the pastry.

8. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, but start checking after 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold.