P is for Pastry

Recently, it occured to me that I seem to have some weird connection with P words.

-I have a ‘thing’ for certain words. Pony, for example.

-A good friend of mine from high school used to call me Penfold (from Danger Mouse). Apparently I look like Penfold!

-My sister and I grew up reading (but never watching) the Flumps. I had a homemade version of Pootle which I loved to death (his, not mine). B calls me Pootle sometimes. Apparently I also look like Pootle. If you combine Penfold and Pootle, you get Poofold! Hopefully I don’t look like anything called Poofold.

-I also love Pastry. Drape anything in pastry and I’ll probably eat it. Except Poofold. Inspired by Matt’s Partridge Pasties, I made Pastie versions of our curried chicken and Potato Pie dinner the other day. It was a Pleasant Pow! to the tastebuds.

-Thanks to B, I am now addicted to watching English Premier League football. That doesn’t quite start with P but I can make it : Penglish Premier Pleague Pootball!

Ok, that’s enough silliness now…

Creme fraiche pastry :
(This is my favourite standby pastry. It’s quick and easy to put together, and the end result is wonderfully tender, flaky and flavoursome. If you don’t have creme fraiche, sour cream works just as well (although it has to be said, cooking with creme fraiche is a pleasure unto itself). The recipe comes from Christine Manfield’s book, Spice. Use it for pithivier-style pies (she has a five-spice duck and shiitake mushroom pie in her book) or pasties. She doesn’t recommend it for use as a tart case because of how short the pastry is).

125g cold unsalted butter
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
125g creme fraiche

Chill bowl and blade of a food processor in refrigerator. Chop butter into chunks and, while still cold, blend with flour and salt in food processor until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add creme fraiche and pulse until just incorporated. Don’t overwork dough at thisstage or pastry will be difficult to handle with rolling. Form pastry into a ball by hand, then wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Roll and cut pastry as required. Keep pastry as cool as possible when working with it – you may need to return it to the refrigerator as you roll and cut.

To bake, preheat oven to 220’C and bake until golden.

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Cheese in Cracker

I probably should be telling you about how good these crackers were. How easy they were to make, and how thrilling it was to pull them out of the oven, puffed up like little pillows for chipmunks. How, after they were assembled, you could bite into one and warm cheese would flood instantly into your mouth, caressing every single tastebud. Yes, every tastebud. Even the ones that usually only perk up in the presence of panfried brussel sprouts with chestnuts, or brownie crusts. Personally speaking, that is.

I should be telling you that these crackers, with their bellies full of cheese, were equally good topped with homemade carrot and orange marmalade. The marmalade, being eye-catchingly orange in colour, textured and vibrant in flavour, was one of the most simple but astonishingly good things I had made of late.

I should be telling you about these crackers, but what stuck in my mind most was the bit of effort it took to talk B into buying a syringe from the chemist for me, on his way home from work. How reluctant he was to do it at first, because, I mean, a syringe? What would people think!

(Tell them it’s for injecting cheese into crackers, I told him. I’d rather say it’s for drugs, he replied dryly. At least they won’t look at me as strangely.)

After a bit more cajoling, he finally acquiesced, but oh, how embarrassed he was when the chemist gave him a disapproving look, saying, “We don’t do that sort of thing here”, when he asked for a needle that would fit the syringe.

I could be telling you all these things, but I think all you really need to know is, yes, thank goodness, there is a recipe :

Cheese in Cracker :
(from Grant Achatz’s Alinea)

Cracker Dough :
215g warm water
13g fresh yeast
4g sugar
470g plain flour
4g kosher salt
55g melted butter
kosher salt

In bowl of stand mixer, stir together water, yeast, and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes to proof yeast. Add flour, 4g salt, and butter. Attach bowl to mixer, fit mixer with dough hook, and beat on low speed for about 6 minutes, or until dough comes together and forms firm ball. Remove bowl from mixer, cover, and let dough rise in warm place for 25 minutes. Then refrigerate bowl overnight.

The following day, transfer dough to warm place. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces. Line sheet tray with parchment. Preheat oven to 230’C. Using rolling pin or pasta machine, roll out 1 piece of dough about 2mm thick. Save remaining dough for another use. Cut dough sheet into 8 2.5cm squares. Transfer squares to prepared sheet tray. Season squares liberally with salt.

Bake for 6 minutes. Each cracker will puff in center and turn golden brown. Let cool on wire rack to room temperature. Using needle of syringe, punch 1 small hole in each cracker. Reserve in airtight container.

Cheddar Cheese Sauce :
150g aged Wisconsin Cheddar cheese
150g whole milk
6g kosher salt
4g sugar

Grate cheese on large holes of box grater. Transfer cheese to blender. In small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour into blender. Add salt and sugar and blend on high speed until cheese has melted and liquid is very smooth. Pass through chinois into small container. Cover and reserve in warm place until ready to fill crackers.

To assemble and serve : Fill syringe with 30cc of cheese sauce. Using hole made with syringe needle, inject sauce into cracker. Do not overfill or cracker will burst.

[Notes : For the cheese sauce, I used what I had – a mixture of aged Cheddar and Parmesan. In the absence of a syringe needle, a sharp skewer works well to create a neat hole in the cracker large enough for the nozzle to transfer the cheese sauce. The sauce does not leak out once cracker is filled, but the cracker will start to soften over time.]

Carrot and Orange Marmalade :
(by Dan Hunter; from V.EAT Sept/Oct 2008)

850g carrots, peeled, coarsely grated
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 limes
Juice and finely grated zest of 2 lemons
200ml orange juice
820g caster sugar

Combine carrots, 60ml lime juice, 160ml lemon juice, lime and lemon zests and orange juice in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, transfer the mixture to a heavy-based saucepan, add sugar and cook over medium heat for 1 hour or until syrup is reduced and sticky. Transfer to an airtight container and cool. Marmalade will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

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Bean there, done that.

So. I’ve been in a bit of a mini baking frenzy recently. The restaurant was closed for a few days to do some renovations (the floor in the hot part of the kitchen is badly cracked and split, for example), and I gleefully seized the opportunity to absolve myself of any responsibilities for those days (excepting having lunch in the city with a friend who is newly engaged) and barricaded myself at home with bags of flour and sugar. I even piked out on the Work Christmas Party, which is pretty bad of me I know.

But I promise you I have been using the time wisely.

November seems to be shaping up to be Love-Helen-Month in the Lemonpi household. I saw Helen’s post about her award-winning chilli recipe and made a lunge for it immediately. The boy loves chilli, you see. I make a batch of it on a vaguely regular basis. However, I’ve always thought in the back of my mind that my basic recipe could be somehow improved.

Helen’s recipe, I think, let me in on a few important secrets. The use of roasted garlic and chillis, for example (remembering the smell that filled my kitchen while the garlic was roasting, still makes me smile). The hand-cutting of the meat (as opposed to using ready-made mince, which is often minced too finely for what chilli should really be like) and that final flourish : a tiny bit of bittersweet chocolate stirred into the pot at the end, to enrichen it. All these and more, are what have made a big difference so far.

For this first attempt, I was forced to substitute a few ingredients based on what I could find on the day. Those pesky peppers, for example. Instead of habaneros, I used jalapenos, which are pretty hot, though I think they are probably a bit limp-wristed in comparison to habaneros. I also eschewed dried kidney beans in favour of black beans, which I had a big packet of. (A massive packet, in fact. Beans to last me for days. Beans I could be a bean-llionaire with, if ever adzukis, chickpeas, limas and turtles became the new currency.)

Cooking your own beans instead of using the tinned stuff is great especially if you happen to have the time to do it. Soak the dried beans in cold water the day before and the next day, bring them up to boil in plenty of fresh water, then simmer until cooked. Soaking the beans shortens the total cooking time and is apparently also the key to avoiding beans being the notoriously musical fruit we all know and love. You can also throw some aromats into the pot while the beans are simmering, to boost the flavour (and season with salt towards the end of the cooking time), but I skipped this step because I was planning on using part of the batch for some black bean brownies.

Yes, you heard right! Black.Bean.Brownies.!

It’s not often I find myself having time to bake from other blogs, even though I have tons and tons of bookmarked recipes, and I certainly never thought I’d find myself baking vegan, but I’m a big fan of Celine’s beautiful blog and lately I haven’t been able to take my mind off those tempting bites she offers up, like pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and black bean brownies.

These brownies were fun to make (you could say it was almost liberating, not working with eggs and butter for a change!) but are by no means the perfect brownie. However, I can see where they are heading, and Celine promises that an even better recipe is on it’s way, so keep an eye out for it!

In the meantime, B is due back from San Francisco soon. I’ve got the dinner and the dessert prepared. All I need now is the boy. 🙂

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