Gâteau Breton

GateauBreton-Verbena-Berries

(Gâteau Breton with lemon verbena cream and blueberries)

Very recently, one of the members of our work team resigned from his position. He had not been working there very long but even so, I felt overcome with sadness when I heard the news. The kitchen environment is very much all about operating as a team – we celebrate successes and bear the burden of failures as a team. If a few cogs from the machine fail or go missing, then the system starts to break down quickly.

The way in which any kitchen operates, fascinates me even to this day. We get a lot of visitors asking to take a look inside this current kitchen and their interest is not surprising at all. As my work station is located in a corner of the room, I am sometimes able to stand back and observe the quiet ‘controlled chaos’ as it unfolds. Don’t laugh, but it occurs to me that this frenzied ‘show’ is almost a miniaturised version of Vegas. You travel down a long road to reach your destination, to be dazzled by the glitzy bright lights, the smells, the rush of heat, and noise filling your ears. Behind these lights, hide tight, sweaty, gritty faces hunched over benches. They work : to live, for love, with passion, for money, and the occasional bit of glory.

Even when the odds are stacked against them. Sixty covers in one hour? Never say die. They wear the sweat as a badge of pride; pores shut tight with salt, iced cordial and coffee.

Even when Elvis struts in, demanding something off-the-menu. They dance around, scrambling to pull something together. Because it’s Elvis. Because the show must go on.

So now a member of this cast has left. We put on our costumes, we joke, get angry, rush around, grumble at miscues. Then the curtain draws back and the show goes on.

(Amidst this crazy circus, we have managed to find a bit of a holiday. Look, I also made cake! Or rather, it’s a cross between tender cake and buttery shortbread. It’s actually quite wonderful on it’s own, but after being inspired by a recipe from The Big Sur Bakery cookbook, I decided to pair it with lemon verbena cream and some sweet blueberries. If you wish to serve it in a similar way, first warm some thickened cream with fresh lemon verbena leaves and a dash of honey, then strain and chill well before whipping it until it forms soft peaks. Top slices of cake with pillow-like dollops of cream and a generous handful of berries tossed through some icing sugar.)

Gâteau Breton :
(serves 10 – 12; I simplified the instructions a little, but essentially, the recipe is from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

42g (1/2 cup) blanched sliced almonds
150g (3/4 cup) superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
255g (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
74g (from about 4 large eggs) egg yolks, at room temperature
15g (1 tablespoon) kirsch, dark rum, or water
1 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
250g (2 cups plus 3 tablespoons) plain flour
1 whole egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 160’C.

Toast the almonds until golden, cool completely then place in a food processor and process the almonds with about 3/4 cup of the sugar until fairly fine but not powder fine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted, mix the remaining sugar, salt and the butter on medium speed for about 1 minute until smooth and creamy. Beat in the yolks, 1 at a time, beating for about 20 seconds between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the almond mixture, kirsch, and vanilla and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for about 20 seconds, then add the flour in four parts, beating on the lowest speed for about 15 seconds and turning off the mixer between additions. Use a spatula to finish mixing in any flour that remains unincorporated.

Scrape the batter into a prepared fluted tart pan with removable bottom (9 1/2 inch by 1 3/8 inch; greased and lightly floured). With the beaten egg, brush the top of the cake well, using a little less than 1 tablespoon. Use the tines of a fork to make a crosshatch pattern on top. The fork lines help prevent the batter from puffing up unevenly.

Bake the cake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until a deep golden brown and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the centre.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before attempting to unmold it and place it on a serving plate.

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Pineapple and chamomile


(Pineapple and chamomile custard tart, lemon verbena cream)

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I had promised to write about the answer to the second question my Optometrist asked me :

2) What is your all-time favourite thing to cook

Truth is, I didn’t have an answer for him then, and I don’t really have an answer for it now. He simply couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a favourite dish. Pretend, he said, that it’s a perfect Saturday afternoon and you’re about to watch the football (he is a Wolves fan, who incidentally have been promoted to the Premier League). The big question is, what is your favourite thing to cook under these circumstances?

Truth also is, that I would bake. But doesn’t baking sound terribly limp-wristed under the circumstances? I would bake, because in reality, it would be Sunday afternoon before we got the football here, and usually on Sunday afternoons we have coffee and a bit of cake or a handful of freshly baked cookies. We would sit there picking crumbs off our shirts, while cheering or shouting at the tv.

We’d then spend the rest of the day lazing around, making plans to go cycling but never following through with it. I would slink back into the kitchen again, to bake something. By sundown, no cycling would have been undertaken whatsoever, and dinner would either be bubbling in a pot on the stove, or already laid out on the table. Our dinners rarely feature the same thing twice. I like trying out new recipes or making things up according to what I happen to have at hand. Which explains why I don’t have a ‘signature’ dish, as they call it.

I don’t think I’ve ever made the same dessert twice for B either. Even if it’s just a brownie with some ice-cream, the brownie will be from a recipe I hadn’t yet tried. I dreamt up the pineapple tart dessert above while I was making small pineapple tarts. Making a larger version was my impatient attempt at trying to speed up the whole process. Yes, stuffing each individual pastry is incredibly fiddly and it really tests your endurance, but the end result is definitely worth it.

The large tart contains pineapple jam and a layer of chamomile custard which I made recently after buying a chamomile plant from the markets. This plant (with a scent reminiscent of green apples and pineapple), and a potted lemon verbena, are the latest fragrant additions to my balcony garden. I had to denude the chamomile of all its sweet white flowers in order to make the custard – a recipe based on David Everitt-Matthias’ recipe for a chamomile cream. If you’re interested in making a similar tart, use the cream recipe below, omitting the gelatine and double cream. Serve the tart warm, with a dollop of plain cream or lemon verbena flavoured cream.

(If you can’t be bothered making anything as fussy looking as that, stick to the little pineapple tarts – the recipe by Pichet Ong is provided below (he calls them turnovers). For the pineapple filling, I followed Arfi’s recipe. If you can’t get a hold of fresh pineapple, you can also used the tinned kind. There’s a good recipe for it here, though I would advise erring on the side of caution and starting with less sugar than you think you need, and adjusting the sweetness later.)

Pichet Ong’s Caramelised Pineapple Turnovers:
(from the Sweet Spot by Pichet Ong)

for the caramelised pineapple filling :
2 small pineapples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
180g crushed palm sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon salt

for the pastry dough :
300g plain flour
50g custard powder
1 tablespoon dried milk powder
180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
70g icing sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg

to glaze:
3 large egg yolks, beaten
whole cloves (optional)

To make the pineapple filling : Put all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan, set over low heat, and cook, stirring occasinally, until the sugar has dissovled and all the liquid has evaporated, about 45 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.

To make the dough : Sift the flour, custard powder, and dried milk together and set aside. Put the butter, icing sugar and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until the mixture is light and creamy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the flour mixture, and mix until incorporated. Add the egg and mix just until the dough comes together; it will be quite sticky. Form the mixture into a ball, press it into a 1-inch-thick disk, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper. Unwrap the chilled dough and form it into 1-inch balls. Using your fingertips, press one ball into a thin 3-inch disk. Put 1 tablespoon of the pineapple filling in the center of the dough circle, fold over to make a half-moon, and pinch the edges together to seal. Twist off any excess dough, press and gently roll the half-moon shape into a ball. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Alternatively, roll the whole disk of dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 1/8-inch thickness, cut out 3-inch circles with a cookie or biscuit cutter, and fill and shape them. Put the filled balls 1 inch apart on the baking sheets, and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven to 175’C. Brush the balls with the egg yolks and stick a clove, if desired, in the centre of each. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before serving.

Chamomile cream :
(from Dessert by David Everitt-Matthias)

450ml milk
30g fresh chamomile flowers
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
75g caster sugar
50g cornflour
100g unsalted butter, diced
1 1/2 gelatine leaves
30ml lemon juice [I used yuzu]
125ml double cream, whipped

Put the milk and chamomile in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and cornflour together. Gradually pour in the milk, whisking to combine, then return the mixture to the pan and cook over a medium heat for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until thick. Remove from the heat, place to one side to cool a little, then stir in the butter bit by bit until it has melted. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes until soft and pliable. Squeeze out all the water, add the gelatine to the chamomile mixture and stir until dissolved. Stir in the yuzu juice.

Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover the surface with cling film and leave to cool. Fold in the double cream and store in the fridge until needed.

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