Tag Archives: Pastry

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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Fig-honey-caramel

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Sometimes, we need very few words to explain. This may be one of those times.

Fig. Honey. Caramel.

I made the fig-raspberry tartlets again, with a few tweaks and in longform. While the tart was baking, I had fig and cardamon poaching liquid sitting in the pan, and a jar of blackbutt honey on the bench. The two came together, simmered, boiled, turned a deeper golden caramel, and fig-honey-caramel was born.

It was the essence of figs and honey. Drizzle the caramel on the sesame-almond tart pastry, drip it onto the tart filling. Watch the caramel form a Jackson Pollock-esque pattern on bits of pastry, before running into sticky, semi translucent pools on nestling fig.

Place the tart under the grill for a minute or so, until the caramel bubbles up. Drop a few sprigs of rosemary on top, so its woody savoury smell mingles with the honey overnight.

My slight obsession with figs continues.

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A Winter’s Tale: sesame-almond, fig-raspberry tartlets

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This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) challenge began as a quick fig and raspberry tart, and ended with me as a culinary flaneur, discovering food ideas containing sesame, almond, figs, and raspberries. Oh, I also turned them into tartlets.

Sesame and almond pastry made me wonder. An unfamiliar combination, it looked chunky, flecked with almond and cinnamon, “rustic” (that over-used word). Lightly toasted, a nutty fragrance fills the kitchen and trickles through your lungs. The scent of sesame promised exciting things from exotic locations.

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Then, I looked at the raspberry and fig filling and wondered some more. Figs and sesame, raspberry and fig – I get that. But raspberry and sesame? Delicate raspberries with the bold, strong flavours in the pastry? Curiouser and curiouser.

The recipe for the fig and raspberry crostata asks for fresh figs and fresh raspberries. It’s still winter in our corner of the world, and the fruit shop was charging $4 per fig. Per. Fig. Yikes! Unwilling to spend my weekly coffee budget on a few under-ripe figs, I substituted dried white figs, plumed up in warm water and scented with cardamom and cinnamon. In keeping with the winter theme, I added raspberry jam to the fig compote instead of fresh raspberries, with a generous splash of lemon juice.

Raspberry jam, dried white figs and lemon juice creates a sweet-tart reddish gooey mess, which bubbles up during cooking to leave strands of caramel around the lattice pastry. Its relative simplicity showed off the enriched textures and flavours in the pastry: toasted sesame, toasted almonds, cinnamon. In these tartlets, the pastry wants to be the star.

This mix of textures and flavours make these tartlets grown-up’s treats. Sweet and tart jam and caramel. Crunchy, sesame-fragrant pastry. These tartlets piques your curiosity, then invites you to linger, smell, nibble, and then taste.

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Home, and a homely pie with walnut pastry

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At the end of the Lord of the Rings series, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin ride back into the Shire, home…at last.

We heaved a similar sigh on returning home from holidays on Monday night. Not that we’ve been fighting dragons or destroying magical rings, but we could finally unpack our suitcases, instinctively recognise the currency again (I never quite figured out the difference between 10 and 20 cent Euro coins), stop thinking about hotel bookings and catch up on this blog!

I can also buy groceries and make dinner on a whim, knowing exactly what is in the pantry and which kitchen utensils are where. (First dinner at home? Rigatoni with crispy prosciutto, baby peas, goats milk fetta and just enough cream cheese to mix everything together)

Don’t get me wrong. Scotland, London, Germany – were beautiful, often magical. I am in love with Hebridean sunlight and kaffee und kuchen in Germany, and am still a little obsessed by black faced sheep. But there is something about home, our little world. Even going back to work on Tuesday was fun, catching up with friends, staying awake though my brain was still on central European time.

I’ll be sorting our 2000-odd holiday snaps for a while, so expect random photos of peat bogs, lochs, black faced sheep, churches and castles at random intervals. Meanwhile, on the theme of home coming, here’s a homely apple, pear and quince pie with walnut pastry.

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Just before going on holidays, I made savoury galettes with the Tuesdays with Dorie group. After the galette, I tweaked the cornmeal pastry recipe, using ground walnuts instead of the cornmeal, and made it into a mini pie.

It was my first time making a lattice top for a pie, and it worked!

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Savoury galette and an almost catastrophe

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I’ll start with the almost catastrophe. As I carried two savoury galettes from the kitchen to the dining table, they slipped off the cooling rack I was holding and fell –

– one of them face down –

– onto plates I had just set out. 

The pastry mostly stayed in tact. There was a little cracking and breaking around the edges, and a few bits of crunchy, flaky pastry made a bid for freedom and landed on the table, but the galettes held together better than I could have hoped. Even the upside down galette flipped around again, tarte tatin-style, not much the worse for wear.

The cheese probably helped to hold the galettes together, but I am also giving the pastry a tick for being tough enough to cope with my clumsiness. Really, some days my feet seem to look out for potholes or uneven paving stones to trip over, or poles to walk into. And the number of times I’ve almost knocked over that bag of flour or sugar!

Catastrophe aside. the pastry was a delight to eat, and not at all like a brick (which would also survive my clumsiness). There is cornmeal, sour cream or yoghurt, and a long resting time. The result was different from your superfine Parisian pastry, it had character, crunch, colour, and a certain heft. It was a pastry that helped to set off the toppings on the galette, but also held its own. We talked about the flavour and texture of the pastry as much as the colours of (miniaturised) tomatoes on the topping.

Which brings me to the tomatoes. I saw these in the grocers and knew, just knew, they were destined for the galettes. They were yellow, 1960s orange, red, and a dark red-brown with darker streaks. They created a beautiful colour wheel on their own.

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They also had that real tomato taste, that umami taste, and only needs the tiniest amount of sugar, or balsamic vinegar, to become a complete salad. Paired with basil and mozzarella, it was a real pretty sight.

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Good things come in threes: fig jam, tart, ‘taschen

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This started with a surfeit of dried figs in the pantry. How this happened, I don’t know. One day, we woke up with dried figs coming out of our ears.

After I wrote the last sentence, it looked like a sentence that could have come from a fable in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Like:

On 23 February 2013, Gander woke up with a ticklish feeling in her ear. She remembered the moment 478 years ago, when a fig was squashed underfoot in a moment of childish frenzy, and the fig, lying bleeding in the dirt, said to her “may you have figs come out of your ears from the day you become a woman.” Gander had travelled far and wide, always away from places where figs grew in the wild, or hung in garlands under heavy porticos.
[a hundred pages and centuries of history later] and that morning, Gander looked into the mirror and saw figs, nestled in garlands above and next to her earlobe, with the tips of more dried figs visible in the shadows where her nape is veiled by lustrous dark hair.

What actually happened that morning – I looked into the pantry and saw dried figs and more dried figs nestling among dried apricots. No magic realism in sight.

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I looked at the dried figs, they looked at me. The first and only thought that occurred to me was fig jam.

Figs, dried apricots, orange juice, with cinnamon and a smidge of vanilla. No added sugar. Poached in a slow cooker with barely enough water for more than two hours. During this time, the figs and apricots were plump, infused with each others’ flavours, and then were cooked down again until the mixture is just on the verge of drying out and caramelising. Then, the mixture was blitzed in a food processor until they turn into a thick, dark, shiny and smooth paste.

This isn’t your usual jam, where the first and last thing to hit your palate is sugar. When we tasted this jam, we tasted the fruit first, and noticed their sweetness afterwards. It was sweet enough, not cloyingly sweet. What lingered and made us come back for another spoonful was the play between the flavours of figs, apricots and oranges.

Recipe at the end of the post.

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So frenchy so chic: classic apple tart

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This week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe is a French apple tart: thin apple slices edged in dark brown, forming rings or rosette patterns, resting on pureed roasted apples and framed by delicate flaky pastry. It’s pretty as pretty can be.

This recipe is not technically difficult, but is time consuming. It demands attention to detail at each step to bring out the best of its simple ingredients in a beautiful form. TWD pointed me to the episode of Baking with Julia in which chef Leslie Mackie makes the ‘perfect’ tart dough and this apple tart (here and here). Leslie’s low key manner made it seem like just another day in the family kitchen – which is how home baking should be.

I had two opportunities to make this tart, each time using different techniques (where the recipe offered options). Both times, the guests wowed over the tart’s good looks and taste; and I learned a little more about the art of pastry.

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