I seem to have gone pastry mad this past month, particularly with a new enthusiasm for making my own flaky, buttery puff pastry. All sorts of flour – plain, spelt, rye and (of course) bread flour are perpetually on the shopping list. Between bread making and pastry, I seem to be going through prodigious amounts of the stuff.
Earlier this month I made a small Galette de Rois – a French “Kings’ cake” made with homemade puff pastry filled with almond cream (crème d’ amandes or frangipane) to celebrate Epiphany (6 January). The celebration is in honour of the Magi, the Three Kings. But, I put off making mine until tad bit later in the month with all the Vasilopita (Greek New Year’s bread) to get through. Whatever the date, the cake came out a bit (I mean a lot!) lopsided. It looked like a mini pastry leaning tower of Pisa. Although, to be honest, from the photo it looks more like a pastry slug. Luckily it didn’t affect the taste, and I think I know what exactly went wrong. There is now a notation next to the recipe for next year.
Using up both the leftover frangipane from the Galette de Rois and mincemeat from an opened jar resulted in a lot of little frangipane topped mincemeat tarts. These were exceeding yummy and I suspect they would be delicious with apricot jam – or any other tart fruit filling to counter the sweetness of the frangipane.
Earlier in the month, I was reading a post about the poet Emily Dickinson as a baker by the blogger, Revolutionary Pie who specialises in American historical cooking. It is quite fascinating, and Emily Dickinson’s comment that “People must have puddings” stuck with me. By pudding, Emily Dickinson meant dessert and not the more specific and modern North American definition as a milky, custardy type sweet. In fact, this generic meaning of pudding as a dessert is still used today in the British Isles and many Commonwealth countries – often simply shortened to “pud” as a colloquialism. So, in honour of Emily Dickinson, I chose a recipe from my childhood, a molasses-based Pennsylvania Dutch Shoo-Fly Pie with a flaky shortcrust pastry. Recipe to be posted soon, although I may have to make it again as I wasn’t 100% satisfied first time round.
Much as I love puddings, one cannot live on sweets alone. One dinner this past month was a spicy roast squash, Cavelo Nero, and mushroom tart with a creamy-cheesy sauce made with a spelt pastry crust. Somewhere I read that flour with a lower gluten content is better for a flaky pastry, so you can imagine that the spelt worked well here. Also, by pre-baking and then sealing the crust, there was no soggy pastry! It has been a revelation that I’ve been making tarts and quiches all wrong in the past. Just goes to show that there is always something new to learn.
Leftover scraps of spelt pastry were made into pre-baked tartlet shells. They keep well, stored in air-tight containers. They are ready to be filled with dill-flavoured crème fraîche topped with a sliver of poached salmon, or with a dollop of smoked trout pâté, or simply filled with creamy cheese for instant canapés.
I also made Richard Bertinet’s version of Cornish Pasties – good for a simple dinner. They can be made in batches and frozen before baking. Very useful to have on hand. This version of shortcrust made with margarine seems ideal for any number of savoury fillings, including some of the excess haggis with a bit of swede from Burn’s Night, or even some of the leftover Rajma Curry, originally posted by Francesca @ Almost Italian. The list is endless.
Since a friend’s mother is here from Athens, I got a helpful tutorial in making homemade phyllo, another type of pie crust. Unlike the commercial stuff, homemade phyllo is a bit thicker, though still quite thin! It is simply flour, water and a pinch of salt, kneaded until no longer sticky, then cut into lime-sized or small lemon-sized pieces. Each of those dough balls are flattened, then three stacked with a liberal amount to melted butter between before rolling out again – this time very thin so that you can almost see through it. A large pie (pita) requires three such thin sheets for the bottom – brushed with a mixture of butter and olive oil between – and two sheets for the top. After having seen how it is done, I will definitely need to practise this before making my own credible Greek savoury spinach pie (spanokopita). When I’ve mastered it, I promise a post and a recipe.
In return, I showed them how to make Seville marmalade. Don’t think that with my current obsession with pastry has made me neglect the annual marmalade making!
And, to help with all that pastry experimentation, I have a new bowl to add to my Mason Cash nested bowl set – this one quite large with creamy coloured owls nestled among tree branches.
Meanwhile, my own sourdough bread-making is continuing on a regular schedule. With three different starters needing feeding, I never have to buy another loaf of bread again. There is Sven, the 100% rye starter, Vaso, my original Levain made using a bit of Greek magic (which you can read about here), and finally the baby Muriel who came to me from across the world – an offspring of Celia’s sourdough starter, Priscilla. I really need to branch out and experiment – sourdough crumpets and Derbyshire oatcakes, barley pancakes, buckwheat blinis. Whatever is made with yeast seems fair game for the sourdough conversion. Watch this space for Sourdough Chronicles!