When exercise ruins your waistline

Summer Fruit Tarts

(Summer fruit tarts)

I love running. Not for the feeling of the wind in my hair, or the way your limbs ache in a pleasing way at the end of the line. I love running because when you’re running, there are no interruptions. No phone you have to answer, no “I’ll just quickly Google that”, or “Maybe I’ll catch up on Jessica Jones on Netflix”.

Running gives me time to think. Unfortunately, most of my “thinking” tends to veer sharply towards the solemn contemplation of potential baked goods (thereby negating all the good work that running accomplishes). Which is incidentally how I came about to make a big batch of shortcrust pastry. Battling sweat and aching limbs, visions of Summer berries popped into my head (or maybe it was just bright lights and blurred vision caused by heat exhaustion).

My favourite thing to do with berries is actually nothing at all. Eat them plain and eat them often, I say. But there’s no denying that they also look fabulous perched on top of softly whipped vanilla cream in a buttery tart shell. And with that, afternoon tea is sorted. For extra pizzazz, I topped the fruit tarts with sugared thyme. (Isn’t pizzazz such a great word? If I had a pizza shop, it definitely be called Pizzazz.)

Vanilla Brulee Tart

(Vanilla brulee tart)

My current favourite easy recipe for pastry can be found here. Belinda Jeffery’s recipe, which also appears in her book Mix & Bake, is incredibly versatile. I’ve used it in both sweet and savoury applications to great effect.

Tips for pastry success : Heat is the enemy, when it comes to making or rolling out pastry. Keep everything as well chilled as possible. Also chill your lined tart shell before blind baking. This helps retain the shape of the shell. A blind baked shell can be used in all sorts of ways, such as the fruit topped tarts above. Alternatively, fill it with vanilla custard and brulee to give that golden burnished finish. The filling was based on this recipe.

Tomato Crostata

(Tomato, herb and chilli crostata)

If you find yourself allergic to lining tarts and engaging in all that blind-baking nonsense, make free form crostatas instead. Roll the dough out into a rough circle, fill with something sweet or savoury (in this case, Summer-kissed tomatoes and herbs) and bake for about 30-35 mins at 175’C. You’d break into less of a sweat making this than you would running.

Tomato Crostata

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A trip to Wellington, then a soup and a scone.

Every time I travel to New Zealand, it feels as though I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and ended up in a place that might not be physically that far away, yet seems worlds apart from my daily life. Paradise, perhaps? Last week, paradise was Wellington, at the southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand. A place where you’re seemingly only one block away from good coffee, great food, and plenty of scenery to inhale.

If you ever find yourself there, I would recommend a walk around the bay, or a trip to Somes Island, which is a mere 20 minutes away by boat. Or steel yourself with a breakfast burrito from Fidel’s Cafe or Floriditas’ eggs on toast before a hike up Mt. Wellington, then come back down in anticipation of dinner at Ortega Fish Shack. On Sundays, both the City Market and Harbourside Market are great places to visit for a self-styled breakfast degustation. If it’s feijoa season, you can get the sweet, perfumed fruit at the markets for as little as $2/kg. And if it rains too much and you want to stay dry, the Wellington City Library has a collection of graphic novels that would rival most actual book stores. Which is exactly my idea of an indoor paradise.

Now that we’re back home and the weather has gotten a little cooler, I’ve started thinking about soups and braises for dinner. While we were away, I came across a recipe by Dean Brettschneider for sweet plaited scones which I’d planned to make over the weekend. Somehow that never eventuated and one evening, to accompany a hot bowl of roasted cauliflower soup, we had these savoury scone loaves instead.

The scone dough is quick to make, since it precludes the proving time required with yeasted loaves, and is easily adapted to include a range of fillings; both sweet and savoury. For our dinner, I made one with herb and cheese, and another with Branston pickle and cheese. Both were equally well received.

Plaited Scone Loaves :
(makes 2 small plaits; adapted from a recipe by Dean Brettschneider from Global Baker)

380g plain flour
pinch of sea salt
25g baking powder
60g soft unsalted butter
1 egg
190g milk

In a bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking powder. Rub the butter into the flour mixture, then add the egg and milk and gently combine to form a dough. Divide the dough in 2 portions.

Roll the first portion into a rectangle roughly 30cm long x 20cm wide, with the longest side facing you. Spread a thin layer of soft butter (1-2 tablespoons) over the dough then sprinkle your filling of choice over the dough, leaving a 1cm border all around. Roll the dough up tightly, pressing the ends together. Cut the roll in half, lengthways. With both cut sides facing upwards, intertwine the two strands of sliced dough to form a simple plait. It will look a little like this. Place the plait on a greased or lined baking tray. Repeat the above with the second portion of dough.

Preheat 175’C oven, then bake the plaits for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

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Herb and cheese madeleines

I’ve been having mixed feelings about all this pleasant weather we’re experiencing. Firstly, it’s too sunny. Unless you’re Mariah Carey, you don’t earn any friends by walking around with your umbrella up on a hot Summers day. Just ask the guy who yelled, “It’s not raining!” out of his car window at me.

But all this sunshine is also allowing the balcony garden to go from strength to strength. I have cress growing on our kitchen window sill, and pea sprouts planted in a random collection of containers outside. The sprouts take less than a week from planting to harvest and taste utterly delicious. Well worth the non-effort.

Most of the greens have ended up on our dinner plates. Occasionally, I’ve baked herb tartlets or scones for a snack. This morning, I thought I’d give Proust’s aunt a run for her money and made a batch of savoury madeleines, flavoured with brown butter, cheese and a mixed bunch of herbs I gathered from the garden.

If you don’t have a mini madeleine tray, you can also bake these in small financier tins or as mini muffins.

Herb and cheese madeleines with mustard yoghurt :
(makes 1 tray of mini madeleines)

For the madeleines :
2 eggs
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
70g butter
50g plain flour
pinch of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs or sprouts
2 tablespoons grated parmesan or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 200’C. Grease and flour the mini madeleine tray, tapping out any excess flour.

Melt the butter in a small pan, cook it until it turns a nut-brown colour then carefully strain it into a bowl to cool down.

Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt in an electric mixer on high until very light and fluffy. With the mixer running on low, drizzle in the browned butter. Fold in the flour and baking powder, followed by the chopped herbs and grated cheese. Pipe or spoon the mix into the prepared madeleine tray and bake for 4-5 minutes until cooked. These are best eaten warm.

For the mustard yoghurt : Mix 2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard with 4 tablespoons of thick yoghurt. Season with a pinch of sea salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. Serve in a little jar for dipping. class=

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