Category Archives: Pastries

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.

A Sicilian Christmas: buccellato

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I was walking through the maze-like backstreets of Newtown, and stopped in my tracks. In the air was a scent that was heady, sweet, fresh and just dive in and luxuriate. I think, am almost sure, it was the scent of jasmine flowers.

The memory of it so strong that I was still thinking about it days later, when I read about jasmine scented confectionaries and pastries that were made in Sicilian convents. Jasmine-scented ricotta, Sicilian pastries, the legendary fruits of the nuns’ labour. These ideas lingered like a line of poetry or music. Like a food earworm.

I didn’t have jasmine water, instead, I had lots of Sicilian pastries bookmarked under ‘must make this soon, really soon’. One of the recipes was Buccellato. 

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That’s how two of the Sicilian Christmas/new year ‘cakes’ found their way into our Christmas gift boxes, along with other goodies like thousand-layer spiral mooncakes (pictured above). I made a Sicilian version of Buccellato based on a recipe from Manu’s Menu, which is more like a giant cookie log with a fig-chocolate-wine filling. After I made it, I realised it’s like a larger version of the cuccidati or fig cookies from the Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) group, using a recipe from Baking with Julia.

Another version of Buccellato, from further North in Italy, is a yeast cake with the filling ingredients folded into the dough (see here, for example). But I couldn’t go past a Sicilian recipe just now, especially something that can be described as a giant cookie.

It’s a forgiving recipe. My circles weren’t perfectly circular, the pastry was perhaps unusually dimpled, but they still had an appealing home made look. The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze topped with pistachio and glace cherries. I also drizzled royal icing and sprinkled over finely grated dark chocolate. Gilding the lily? Me?

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Almost Dorie: lemon-glazed berry almond Danish, and a quick laminated dough

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24 October (October 24, if you’re in America) is Dorie Greenspan’s birthday. I only became interested in baking and cooking in the last few years, and only began to do things properly in the last year or so, but during this time I’ve come to love Dorie’s recipes and her writing. Besides, Dorie was described by someone as “five foot nothing” – being a short person, I heartily approve of the saying that the best things come in small packages.

Around the world, food bloggers, especially those in the French Fridays with Dorie and Tuesdays with Dorie groups, have been posting to celebrate Dorie’s birthday. It’s a giant virtual party that will go for at least a couple of days as we work our way around global timezones.

Birthday parties deserve the best cake and champers, mini kievs (like the ones Johnny might make) and crabapple hooch like Liz made. And, the best parties have a gate crasher or three. This post is a kind of gatecrasher to the Dorie virtual party. It’s not a recipe created by Dorie, but it does come from a book that she penned, collecting recipes that others had baked with Julia Child.

(Sheepishly, this was also the recipe for last week’s Tuesdays with Dorie group assignment. What can I say, non-blogging life got in the way. Sorry TWD-ers all)

The recipe is a Danish braid made with a quick laminated dough. Mine was filled with almond cream and raspberry jam, topped with slivered almonds, and covered in a tangy, puckery lemon-yoghurt glaze. The lemon glaze really completed the pastry, it somehow softened the filling and brought them together in a refreshing, spritzy kind of bear hug.

To make things pretty, I also sprinkled roughly crushed dried strawberries over the top. They added more intense bursts of sweet-tart, and flecks of colour.

Mr Gander took half of the Danish braid to work, as a way of getting to know people in a new-ish area where he’d recently started working. The Danish braid was wolfed down, and I think he’s now known as the guy who brings Danish braids to work.

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Quick laminated dough and fraisage

Rather than talk about all of the components of the braid, this post will focus on the quick laminated dough used in the braid. The recipe for the Danish braid has been published by the contributing baker Beatrice Ojakangas and is reproduced below.

Laminated dough – for croissants – was one of the more challenging recipes I’ve made as part of the TWD group. Making the laminated dough for the croissants took up most of a day, so I was pretty happy to see a recipe for a ‘quick’ laminated dough.

The quick recipe takes short cuts when putting the dough together. It didn’t require the baker to make detrempe (the yeasted dough used in lamination), beurrage (the block of butter used in lamination), and all that. Instead, it was a relatively quick process in the food processor, or even by hand. Basically, you cut butter into flour and sugar until the butter is still in visible, small chunks. Then, you roll out and fold the dough a few times – even this might be a shortcut as real Danish doughs should have 243 layers, and the quick dough didn’t seem to have as many layers.

After chilling and resting, it’s ready to be used to make Danish braids.

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Making ma’amoul, a Syrian recipe for semolina and date cookies

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Do you have a Christmas tradition (or traditions for other religious or secular holidays)? Would you like to have celebrations that involve little crumbly, buttery semolina cookies filled with date butter, or sugared walnuts or pistachios, and scented with orange blossom water?

Yep, me too.

We made ma’amoul (also spelled mamool, mamoul or maamoul) in a cooking class in the Almond Bar, Sydney. I had heard about these cookies being made for Easter celebrations in Lebanon, and remembered eating them in Syria. Chef Sharon Salloum (whose family is from Syria) said her mum made lots of these cookies for Christmas too – I guess these are celebratory kinda cookies. Once you’ve had one, you’d be looking for more reasons to celebrate too.

The recipe we used comes from the new Almond Bar cookbook. The pastry starts with a mix of semolina, ghee (clarified butter) and sugar, rested, then kneaded with orange blossom water, milk, mahlab and yeast. Then, balls of dough are wrapped around balls of date filling, shaped in a specially made wooden mould, and baked until light brown. Other common fillings are walnuts, or pistachios, chopped finely and mixed with sugar. Be still my beating heart.

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The resulting cookies are melt-on-the-tongue soft, yet crumbly. After the richness of the ghee, comes the fragrance of orange blossom water and the hint of something from the mahlab. Then, the more intense hit of fruity sweetness from the date filling. Then, it’s gone and you find yourself reaching for another one.

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