Something a little different today, with a recipe that is simple, quick, delicious and easily made gluten-free.
I came across it whilst browsing Chinese language food blogs (see the lengths I go to, to bring you the cutting edge of fashionable recipes??). Anyhoo – this recipe seems to be riding a sizeable wave of popularity, which is understandable for all of the reasons I started with, plus the ease with which it can be customised. I’ve ‘interpreted’ the Chinese name to the most suitable translation, the variations I came across whilst researching being many and varied, e.g. Snowflake Cakes, Snow Puff Pastry, Snow Q Cake, Snowflake Crisp, Dry Snow Cake and my favourites – Reticulated Red Snowflake Pastry, Swept Eat Snowflake Crisp Circle & Delicious Non-Stick Tooth Nougat Failure.
It is like a cross between Chocolate Salami and nougat – fruit and nuts are mixed into melted marshmallows, with the addition of crisp biscuit pieces for added texture. The biscuits also ‘lighten the bite’ and prevent it from being either too sweet or too cloying. Once formed into a slab, it is dusted with dried milk powder to give it a wintery effect.
I would recommend having some latex gloves on hand, no pun intended, to help with shaping the warm mass, but it is also possible to make-do without.
When your block has set firmly, you can slice it into serving portions and dust all cut surfaces with milk powder if liked, but I must confess to preferring to see the contrast between the powdery top/bottom and the crisp and sharply delineated sides showing the embedded jewels of fruit and nut. You can even omit the milk powder altogether, or substitute with desiccated coconut, but I would recommend at least trying it to begin with – maybe cut off a slice or two and just dust those.
In terms of variations, the most popular I have found are chocolate (cocoa) and matcha. Being in powder form, they are easy both to add to the melted marshmallows and use for dusting – although changing the overall colour means you do lose the whole ‘snow’ theme somewhat. That said, it does allow you to use non-white marshmallow, if packs of all-white are difficult to find.
Fruits and nuts are entirely to your taste, but bright colours and whole nuts make for attractive shapes when cut through. If you make your own candied peel – and as readers of this blog you all do, obvs (no pressure 😉 ) – it can be substituted for some or all of the dried fruit, and a mix of seeds can replace the nuts.
The quantities given are sufficient for a block of about 20cm square – you can, of course, shape it however you prefer. They are also easy to remember, as I have made them proportional, and thus fairly straightforward to scale up or down, as required.
The biscuits you require should be crisp and dry. In the UK, Rich Tea biscuits or Arrowroot are ideal (regular or gluten-free), although you will have to break them into quarters for ease of shaping. If you’re a fan of the pairing of salty and sweet, you could even substitute Ritz crackers – the mini ones being perfectly sized to leave whole. Crisp and salty pretzels are a further option.
50g unsalted butter
200g white marshmallows
50g dried milk powder
50g dried fruit – cranberries & orange peel/blueberries/apricots
50g mixed nuts – pistachios & walnuts/almonds/cashews
200g crisp biscuits – Rich Tea/Arrowroot/gluten-free/Ritz, broken into quarters if large
Extra milk powder for dusting
- Put the fruit, nuts and biscuits in a pile on a silicone mat.
- Melt the butter in a non-stick pan over a very low heat.
- Add the marshmallows and stir gently while they melt. This will take some time. Do not be tempted to turn the heat up, as they will quickly start to turn brown and caramelise.
- When the marshmallows have melted, add the milk powder and stir until fully combined.
- Pour the marshmallow mixture onto the fruits and biscuits.
- Put on your plastic gloves and thoroughly mix everything together. Use a series of gentle lifting and folding motions. You want the marshmallow to coat everything and hold together, without crushing the biscuits into dust.
- Once the mixture is holding together in a mass, you can use a non-stick tin to help mould it into a rectangle. Press the mass into a corner of the tin to help form two square edges, then turn it around and repeat, pressing it gently by firmly into the sides.
- When you’re happy with the dimensions of your slab, wrap it in plastic and put into the fridge to set for at least 30 minutes.
- When the slab has firmed up, dust with more of the milk powder, making sure the whole surface is covered. Turn the slab over and repeat.
- Using a sharp knife, cut the slab into serving sized pieces – about the size of a matchbox is good – it’s allows the edges to be seen and admired, and cn be eaten in just 2 bites.
- Store in an airtight box.
- Chocolate: Add 15-20g cocoa to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with cocoa.
- Matcha: Add 15-20g matcha powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of matcha and milk powder, or just matcha.
- Fruit variations: Add 15-20g freeze-dried fruit powders (available here) to the pan together with the milk powder, use whole dried fruit in the filling and dust with extra fruit powder.
- Coffee: Add 15-20g espresso coffee powder to the pan together with the milk powder, dust with a mixture of coffee & milk powder.
- Oats: Replace half of the biscuits with toasted, rolled oats.
I wasn’t sure whether to put this up as a recipe as it seems a little ordinary, but then again, not everything in life has to be complicated. Especially if it is delicious. As this undoubtedly is.
This actually started out as a cake of a much different pedigree, and I’m going to show you the recipe that initially caught my eye: A version of the famous Kiev Cake. I’m not going to steal the author’s content, so you will have to click on the link to see all the stunning photographs. And they really are spectacular. AND the author has included step-by-step photos. I even made the cake as described. I just didn’t like it.
My reasons, which I freely admit are entirely subject to my own fickle tastes, were that it was too sweet, I found the nuts unnecessary and the sponge cake itself was too dry, even with the soaking syrup. If you have a sweet tooth and a love of nuts, you will adore the Kiev cake and the linked recipe is certainly a stunner, it was just not for me.
However, I thought the general idea had merit and so went through the creation of several versions, trying to refine the flavours and textures. In the end, the simplest idea was the best: sponge, cream, fruit, meringue.
Essentially, this is a Victoria Sponge filled with Eton Mess, but it is also extremely versatile in that this basic idea can be used and re-used in a multitude of ways, by simply varying the flavours of the cake and the fruit. In the summer months, it can take advantage of the range of fresh soft fruits and berries available either in the shops or to pick yourself. In the colder months, it can be whipped up using fruit tinned in either light syrup or fruit juice. In fact, a store-cupboard with a tin of fruit and a pack of meringue nests and a pot of cream in the fridge renders this cake a treat that can be enjoyed in about an hour from start to finish.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say – an hour? To make and cook a whole cake? Why yes – because it doesn’t HAVE to be a large cake – see below.
Vwa – as they say – la!
The perfect combination of soft sponge, crunchy meringue, sweet-sharp fruit and fresh, billowy cream.
NB If you’re using fresh fruit, then you will need a little preparation in order to bring out their best flavour and also avoid the tricksy problem of juice. See recipe instructions below.
Much of this recipe depends on the size of cake you want to make. Choose quantities accordingly. The amounts given are for a medium-sized single cake.
170g unsalted butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract/paste
200g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C Fan.
- Grease and line your tin with parchment paper.
- Beat the butter until light and fluffy.
- Add the sugar and beat for 5 minutes.
- Add the eggs one by one, whisking thoroughly before adding the next.
- Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add to the other ingredients, mixing only enough to combine.
- Stir through milk until the mixture achieves a dropping consistency.
- Pour mixture into the prepared tin and smooth over.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until risen and golden, and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin.
- Allow to cool in the tin for 10m minutes before removing and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
You can choose almost any fruit that takes your fancy, in whatever quantities you like, because any extra can be served alongside your cake as an added bonus.
Tinned fruit can be found in both juice and syrup. Both are fine and have the advantage of no juice problem, once drained. If your meringue/cream/fruit mixture needs a little sweetening, or it’s a bit stiff, you can add a little juice/syrup rather than raw sugar.
Fresh fruit is equally delicious, but requires you to address the problem of juice. This isn’t such a problem for small berries that you can tumble into your filling whole (blueberries, raspberries, etc), but for fruit which requires slicing (strawberries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, mango, etc.) the juice problem will become apparent as soon as it is cut. If you add chopped fruit directly into the meringue/cream mix, the juice will start to seep into the cream and will eventually turn your filling runny and unstable. Aside from the natural ooziness, the sugar in the meringue will actively draw more juice from the fruit, so in order to prevent this, you need to draw out the juice before mixing it into your filling. This is easily done by first preparing the fruit in small, bite-sized pieces, then sprinkling over 3-4 tablespoons of sugar and gently mixing. Set the fruit aside for 1-2 hours, and you will find that the drawn juice has created a delicious syrup and the fruit has softened and sweetened indulgently. Drain the fruit thoroughly from the syrup before adding to the meringue and cream. Use the syrup to sweeten the mixture, or soak the cake, or not at all.
If you have egg-whites to spare, then you can always whip up a batch of meringues yourself, but I’ve found that the extended shelf-life of ready-made meringues make for a great store-cupboard stand-by. I’ve used both meringue nests and tub of meringue ‘kisses’ and, provided you don’t assemble the cake too far in advance, they both provide the sweet, textured crunch the filling requires. In terms of quantities, it is very much to your own personal tastes, but as a rough guide I would suggest 4 meringue nests or 1/2 a tub of meringue kisses for a cake serving 6-8 people.
You can use double or whipping cream, however I find that double cream whips up firmer and adds just the right amount of stability to get a good,clean slice when serving. 300ml is probably sufficient, but whisk up more if you think it might be required.
To assemble the cake
- Drain the (tinned or fresh) fruit from the syrup.
- Slice the cake horizontally.
- Soak the cut surfaces with syrup from the fruit (optional).
- Whip the cream.
- Add the fruit and crumbled meringues to the cream and fold in.
- Taste and add more fruit syrup if required.
- Spread over the bottom half of the cake and add the top layer of cake.
- Dust lightly with icing sugar and serve.
The recipe this week, as with most of my late-summer posts, is inspired by holidays in France. In addition to the usual holiday activities, this year we also enjoyed WiFi where we were staying, and I was able to binge-watch many episodes of the French version of Britain’s Best Bakery.
In true Bake Off style, each bakery is graded across three rounds: initial visit and tastings, specialist round, and group challenge – where the 3 (later dropped to just 2) bakeries in the region make a recipe set by the judges.
The most recent series has emphasized bread for the second round, so the bakeries must present their best-seller or their most favourite of their bread range, but in earlier seasons, there was no such stipulation, and bakeries could put forward whichever of their products they liked.
One of the bakeries in the Aquitaine Nord region put forward these pastries which really caught my eye as being both simple yet flavoursome. The contrast between the crisp pastry and the soft, moist filling, together with the obvious enjoyment of the two judges, struck me as so delicious and so unusual, I decided to try them myself. Helpfully, the programs also show the bakeries making these recipes, although omitting for the most part any details such as weights, oven timings and even the full list of ingredients. Nevertheless, I managed to piece together this recipe and here we are.
Jesuits get their name from their triangular form, resembling the headgear worn by Jesuit priests in the 17th century. There doesn’t seem to be any further link to the priesthood at all, so we can move swiftly on to their structure. A orange-flavoured almond sponge, or frangipane, is baked between two sheets of puff pastry. Once cooked and cooled, the pastry is cut into triangles and coated with Italian meringue, and briefly returned to the oven to bake until lightly tinted brown.
Apart from being delicious, these are incredibly simple to make. Like the bakery in the program, I initially made a large ‘tray bake’ and then cut it into triangles, but you could also make individual-sized portions. The frangipane is easily customised to any flavouring you like, and the meringue coating is not compulsory – you can just spread a layer on top if you prefer (it’d be a lot less sticky to do, too). Several versions ‘out there’ have only a simple water glaze if meringue isn’t a favourite. You could even omit it altogether: the simple, crisp, unadorned, butter pastry is a great contrast to the soft, moist, orangey, almond filling. If you think that this version sounds more your thing, I recommend making individual pastries – any shape, although I find (Mille-feuille/custard slice sized) rectangles both easy and most appealing.
The classic topping is almonds, flaked or chopped, but for the large bake, I was out of both and so opted for nibbed sugar, which added both sparkle and crunch. The plain pastries can be adorned with a brush of syrup and some flaked almonds for the last 10 minutes of baking and then finished off with a dusting of icing sugar, or indeed nothing at all.
Variation: Ground hazelnuts, if you can find them, make a fantastic pairing with candied orange.
Obviously, you could hand-make your puff pastry, using only the very best ingredients and taking two days to do so, but for speed, practicality, and the unknown quality of a new recipe, a roll of ready-made is the sensible choice. Splash out on an all-butter version. Go wild.
2 sheets puff pastry
100g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g ground almonds
50g candied orange peel, chopped fine
grated zest of 2 oranges
2-3tbs orange liqueur (optional)
To finish – all are optional
sugar syrup – I used the syrup from the candied orange peel.
flaked or chopped almonds for sprinkling
icing sugar to dust
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Dock the pastry sheets with a pastry docker or use the tines of a fork to poke holes all over.
- Whisk the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat again until the mixture is pale and light.
- Add the eggs, one by one, ensuring the first is thoroughly incorporated before adding the second.
- When the eggs are incorporated, fold in the almonds, orange peel and zest, and liqueur if using.
- Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with 1 plain, 2cm tip.
- Lay one of the pastry sheets onto a baking sheet on a piece of parchment.
- Pipe the mixture evenly onto the pastry in a rectangle, leaving a border of at least 3cm around the edges.
- Brush the edges with water and lay the second sheet of pastry over the filling. Press the edges firmly, trying to trap as little air as possible.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. NB For individual pastries, you need bake for only 30 minutes, brushing with syrup and sprinkling them with flaked almonds for the last 10 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- When just warm, cut off the excess pastry from around the edges and then divide the filled pastry into triangles. The size is entirely up to you. You can either enjoy them as is, or add the meringue and almond coating.
- Make an Italian meringue. My recipe is here.
- Lay a fresh piece of parchment onto a baking sheet.
- Coat the sides and the top of each pastry with a layer of meringue, no more than 1cm thick.
- Lay the coated pastry onto the parchment.
- When all pastries are coated, sprinkle them with the chopped/flaked almonds and bake for 10 minutes until the meringue is lightly browned.
- Enjoy warm, or allow to cool.
- If covered with meringue, these are best on the day they are baked. Unadorned pastries can be enjoyed for 2-3 days. Crisp them up by warming gently in a low oven.
After six years I decided to revisit the Apple Rose Tarts I created for Season 2 of The Great British Bake Off.
These are essentially the same tarts, but with a bit of a make-over for the apple decoration. Looking less like roses, but still with a floral semblance, these variations are formed from a swirl of poached apple slices on top of a set apple compote.
You can, of course, use the filling from the originals, but this simplified variation means that these tarts can be prepped in advance, and then assembled just before serving, something that was possible, but rather tricky, with the rose tarts.
I also experimented with using puff pastry. The above shells were created by draping puff pastry over the back of a star-shaped tart tin. The shell on the left was made from pastry cut with a six-petalled cutter. The form on the right was made using a large circular piece of pastry. In order to ensure they kept their shapes, a second tin ‘sandwiched’ the pastry inside, and a wire rack place on top to hold them in place. They were baked at 220°C, 200°C Fan for 15 minutes.
600g Bramley apples
200g caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon
sweet shortcrust pastry, cornflour pastry or ready-rolled puff pastry
red-skinned dessert apples as required
1 litre apple juice
250g caster sugar
red food colouring (optional)
- Use the pastry to line and fully bake whichever tartlet shells you prefer.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack.
- When cooled, if not using immediately, store in an airtight container until required.
- Peel, core and chop the Bramley apples.
- Put them in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Cover and simmer over medium low heat until they become fluffy.
- Stir briskly to remove any lumps, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Continue to simmer until the mixture has thickened. Set aside.
- Prepare the dessert apples. If you have a mandolin that can cut 2mm slices, core the apples and slice them with that. You will need to cut these slices in half before using them. Otherwise, cut the apples in half from top to bottom, remove the core and cut into exceedingly thin, semicircular slices, 2mm if possible.
- Pour the apple juice into a saucepan and submerge the apple slices as you cut them , to prevent discolouration.
- Simmer the apple slices gently for 10 minutes or until tender – You need the apples to be soft enough so that you can roll them, but not so soft as to fall apart.
- Lift the apple slices from the syrup with a slotted spoon and allow to drain/cool in a sieve.
- When cool enough to handle, lay out the apple slices as follows.
- The slices should be laid exceedingly close together, so there is only about 3mm of each slice visible.
- The overall length of the strip of apple slices needs to be at least 15cm in order to be curled round into a form that will sit inside a single, cupcake-sized pastry shell.
- Cover the strips of apple slices until required.
- Add the sugar to the apple juice and stir until dissolved.
- Simmer over medium heat, until the juice has thickened into a syrup.
- Add a little red gel food colouring to tint the syrup, if liked.
- To assemble the tarts:
- Warm the apple compote and spoon 1-2 tablespoons into each pastry case. Allow to cool. As it cools, it will firm up and give support to the apple decoration.
- For each strip of apple slices:
- Lift the strip from the board and stand it on the flat base of the slices.
- Curl one end of the strip around in a circle until it meets the other end of the strip.
- Check whether the form is small enough to fit into the pastry shell. If not, ease the slices round into a tighter circle.
- Place the curled slices into the pastry shell. Keep a hold of the form with one hand until you’re sure it has all fitted inside. A cocktail stick is handy here for tucking in the ends of any sticking-out slices.
- When everything is tucked inside, you can stop holding the form, as the pastry case will support it.
- Use the cocktail stick, if necessary, to tweak the apple slices into place. I particularly like the subtle variations in the finished patterns, depending on the number and curl of the apple slices – see below.
- Brush the apple slices generously with the apple syrup, and serve.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: Jane Newton’s mini chicken & bacon pies!
In food, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s really difficult to be original. Whatever blinding flash of inspiration you think you’ve had, I promise you that it has been done before; usually better, sometimes worse. If it hasn’t been done before, then that’s usually a good indication that it’s not such a great idea (i.e. it was done before and discarded because it wasn’t fab at all). If it was fab, we’d have heard about it in the last 5000 years. This goes for top-level chefs as well as for the humblest baker.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe and putting your own spin on it. Tweak it enough and then you can claim it as your own (and acknowledge the inspirational recipe, but it’s surprising how many people seem to forget this bit).
Example: Ian Dowding and the invention of Banoffi Pie. Except, of course, he didn’t invent it, he readily admits that it evolved by adding bananas to a recipe for Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie brought back from the US by Russell the chef, with whom Dowding worked in a restaurant in Berkshire. Read all about it here.
And so to this week’s recipe. I recently watched an episode of a food show from the US and one of the items shown was a Goat’s Cheese and Blueberry Pie with fresh basil. I liked the unusual combination and re-watched the clip several times in order to jot down what looked like the quantities/ingredients. It took a couple of tries to get the sweetness and texture right, and my overall verdict was: No. The goats cheese was odd. The tart lacked zing. The fresh blueberries were OK, but had no pop of flavour, and so I set my notes aside.
Until I had a brain wave a couple of weeks ago with: blackcurrants! I resurrected my notes and swapped in blackcurrants for blueberries and it was amazing (she said modestly). The fresh basil is very reminiscent of the aroma of blackcurrant leaves and the amazingly tart pop of flavour from the berries was just what had been missing from the original. After guarded compliments from friends after the first attempt, I swapped the goats cheese for cream cheese and found I didn’t miss the lack of tang at all. – it was creamy, but not so dense as to push it into cheesecake territory (although it’s close!). Disliking unnecessary waste, the surplus egg-white from the filling ended up in the topping, along with butter instead of margarine, which all made for a crunchy variation to the original. Finally, there was a need to balance out the basil: the boldness of the blackcurrant flavour meant a larger quantity was needed in order for it not to be lost in the background whilst avoiding being too heavy handed and tipping it over into a borderline savoury tart. Luckily, the perfect amount was almost exactly the quantity of leaves you get in a 28g pack of fresh basil in the supermarkets.
Interesting Fact: I read recently that blackcurrant is, for the most part, an unknown flavour in the US, due to a ban in the early 20th century when it was thought to harbour a disease harmful to the logging industry. All can say is: you’re missing out, my friends across the water, and it’s high time you invested in blackcurrant bushes in order to enjoy all the wonderful things you can do with them. Exhibit A: this pie! If you’re lucky, you will be abe to find frozen berries in your supermarkets and farm shops until your bushes bear fruit themselves.
So yes, I did not conjure this fabulous tart up out of thin air, I evolved it from something else. That doesn’t mean it’s not fabulous and you should all rush out and get some blackcurrants immediately. If nothing else, for the vitamin C, doncherknow.
“But where!? It’s March!” I hear you wail. If you’re not lucky enough to have some in your own freezer from the bounty of last summer, then (in the UK) some supermarkets have them in the frozen fruit section. You can also find them in farm shops that have large chest freezers, alongside other berries and fruits in a kind of scoop-your-own setup.
I’ve opted for a pastry crust, but you could just as easily use a cheesecake-like, biscuit-and-butter crumb instead. Fresh basil is a must – don’t even think of trying to fudge it with dried.
It goes without saying – but I shall say it anyway – that, obviously, you can sub back in all the stuff I took out and try it for yourselves and make it YOUR own. 😀
Blackcurrant and Basil Tart
1 x 20cm shortcrust pastry case, blind baked (or biscuit base of your choice)
300g cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g caster sugar
15g fresh basil leaves, shred finely (from a 28g bunch/pack)
300g blackcurrants – frozen is fine
50g caster sugar
1 large egg white
50g flaked almonds
50g melted butter – cooled
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Whisk the cheese until smooth, then add the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour and mix thoroughly.
- Stir through the shredded basil and the blackcurrants. The blackcurrants can be used frozen, just make sure they’re not all stuck together in a big lump.
- Pour the filling into the prepared tart case.
- Whisk the sugar and egg-white together, until frothy, then stir through the almonds. Add the cooled butter and mix thoroughly.
- Pour the topping evenly over the filling.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes until almost set, and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool, then chill thoroughly before serving.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: A super quick, fruity Soda Cake from 1835
Back in January 2015, I introduce you all to Drowned Doughnuts, a wonderfully light and flavoursome dough that had the unusual method of being proved in water (hence the ‘drowned’). At the time I mentioned that I would be returning to the dough at some point, for use in another recipe, and so here we are.
Yes, I know it’s been two years, but I’m rather bad (or should I say, very good) at getting distracted.
Drowned fruit tart is deliciously adaptable to whatever fruit you have to hand – the usual filling is stewed apples, but I happened to have some beautifully coral-coloured, stewed Warden pears in the freezer, so went with those. The quantity can be dictated either by what you have to hand or by the shape of your tin for, as can be seen in the picture, any excess dough can be made into the aforementioned doughnuts. With a small addendum to the original recipe.
Anecdote Deviation: I like to think that I know a bit about a few bits of baking, here and there, and can usually deduce how something has been put together, and frequently the general method. There’s a pub nearby that we like to eat at, and their bread game is ON POINT! The pizzas are hand thrown and baked to order, and each table is brought a basket of freshly-baked rolls as an appetiser. Nice! My daughter is obsessed with these rolls, and secretly so was I, although I played it cool.
These rolls are the softest, most pillowy balls of fresh-baked dough I have ever eaten. And, frustratingly, I couldn’t work out how this was achieved. My understanding of the best way of achieving soft rolls has been tweaked over the years as I have picked up snippets of information here and there, and until recently consisted of: mix dough with half milk, half water, brush baked rolls with milk when they come out of the oven and allow to cool in a clean cloth, thereby trapping the steam and softening the crust. Even crisp mixed-with-water-only rolls will soften after such treatment. What was nagging at me was the fact that the pub rolls were obviously baked to order and brought to the table hot from the oven and yet they were so soft, so tender – I couldn’t work out how it was done.
Each visit would be followed by experimentation of one or two batches only to get the thumbs down from my daughter, so on a recent visit I decided to be BRAZEN and when the server approached the table with the (now legendary) basket of hot rolls and the question “Can I get you anything to start?” I looked him straight in the eye and said “The recipe for these rolls, please!” I know. Shameless – but I was desperate!
Bless his heart, he was back 10 minutes later with a hand-written recipe from the chef. Eagerly I scanned the recipe for the magic touch. Did he add cream? Maybe the rolls contained lard, or margarine. Oooh! Oooh! Could it be milk powder!? No. The one thing that differed from a perfectly ordinary bread dough recipe, the magical touch that set these rolls apart from all other efforts was – the rolls were brushed with melted butter before baking.
I must confess to being more than a little skeptical – I was familiar with the technique of brushing hot loaves with butter AFTER baking, sure (popular in Russia, Ukraine, etc) – it makes loaves beautifully glossy and burnished – but before? Nevertheless I was prepared to give it a go and brushed over melted-but-cooled butter on the batch I whipped up the very next day. And they were perfect. I couldn’t get over how perfect they were, how pillowy, billowy soft. My daughter was overjoyed.
Which is why, when making the leftover dough in this recipe into balls (as opposed to cutting them out originally), I brushed them with melted butter before baking. They turned out fantastically soft (*points at photo* See! SEE how lovely they look!) and, tossed in caster sugar, hot from the oven, about as close to a guilt-free doughnut as you can get.
All of which leads me ramblingly to this point: you’re never too old a dog to learn a new trick.
The tart. The extra little touch for this tart, aside from using sweet, vanilla-scented dough in place of pastry, is the treatment after it emerges from the oven. You spoon – or in my case pipe (fewer stray splodges) – sweetened sour cream/creme fraiche between the dough strands, directly onto the fruit filling and allow it to cool. The cream slowly thickens to a cheesecake-like texture which goes fantastically well with the sharp, fruit filling and the sweet dough. I also brushed the edges of the tart with melted butter, to keep them soft. I used clarified butter, for a more even colour (milk solids might bake as darker spots).
And finally, you don’t HAVE to let the dough rise in water, it will still rise just fine in a bowl.
Drowned Fruit Tart
1 batch of Drowned Doughnuts dough, after the first rise
500g-1kg stewed fruit – cooled
300ml sour cream/low fat creme fraiche
50g-100g sugar to taste
clarified butter, melted and cooled
caster sugar (for the doughnuts)
- Grease and line a baking tin with parchment paper. Make sure it is deep enough to contain a decent layer of fruit filling. I used 500g of pears for the tart in the photo – on reflection, 1kg would have been even better.
- Roll out the risen dough to a thickness of 1-1.5cm. It will obviously rise during proving and baking, so you don’t want to start too thick and then end up with something less-than dainty emerging from the oven.
- Line the tin with the dough and allow any excess dough to drape over the sides.
- Spread in your fruit filling evenly.
- Trim the excess dough and re-roll the trimmings to make lattice strips. I opted for thin strips, twisted into ‘barley-sugar’ shapes.
- Lay the strips diagonally across the tart to form a diamond lattice. Dampen the edges of the dough and fold them down and over the ends of the lattice strips to keep them in place. Crimp the edges of the tart neatly.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Brush the edges of the tart and the lattice strips with melted, cooled butter. Allow to prove while the oven heats up.
- Bake until risen and golden. Depending on the size of your tart, this will be between 25-40 minutes.
- While the tart is baking, divide any remaining dough into 30g pieces and roll into balls. Set onto a lined baking sheet to prove.
- Mix sugar into the cream/creme fraiche to taste. I usually under-sweeten with just 50-60g of sugar. Spoon into a piping bag if liked.
- When the tart is baked, remove from the oven and fill the lattice spaces with the sweetened cream. Set aside to cool for 3-4 hours. Serve at room temperature.
- For the doughnuts: When risen, brush with cooled, melted butter and bake for around 15 minutes. Whilst hot, toss in caster sugar and set onto a wire rack to cool – or consume immediately, your call.
I’d like to introduce you to a rather fabulous multi-purpose ingredient, developed and created in the L’Ecole du Grand Chocolate Valrhona test kitchens: Namelaka. It was actually developed several years ago, but seems not to have caused much of a ripple since then, with the exception of in Italy, where it appears to be very popular.
It’s name (pronounced namma-lakka) comes from the Japanese for creamy/smooth and it is a fabulous cross between a ganache and a crème pâtissière. It has the smoothness of a pastry cream, but the richness of a ganache and can boast a whole host of uses.
As you can see from the photo, it holds its shape beautifully when piped, which makes it perfect for tart and pastry fillings and decoration. It is especially fine in filling choux pastry items such as eclairs, profiteroles, cream puffs and croquembouche. You can use it to decorate the tops of cakes or to sandwich them together, both large and small, and it can also be served as a dessert itself, in small, ladylike portions, with some granola or crushed biscuits adding texture.
One of the great aspects of namelaka is the possibility of adding additional flavours to complement the finished cream by infusing the milk before use. What you use is limited only by your imagination: the zest of any of the numerous citrus fruits, instant coffee granules, freeze-fried fruit powders, teas, freshly ground spices, tonka bean, praline… the list goes on. The only downside of namelaka cream is the need to make it a full day before required, as it needs time to chill thoroughly before use.
For serving in its most light and delicate form, I recommend just a single leaf of gelatine and using whipping cream. An almost mousse-like consistency can be achieved by using 2 leaves of gelatine and double cream, and then whisking it briefly after chilling overnight.
White Chocolate Namelaka Cream
170g white chocolate
1 sheet of leaf gelatine/2 sheets
100ml whole milk
5ml liquid glucose
200ml whipping cream/double cream
- Melt the white chocolate in the microwave or in a bowl over simmering water.
- Put the sheet of gelatine in cold water to bloom.
- Heat the milk and glucose in a pan until almost boiling.
- Add the bloomed gelatine to the milk and stir to dissolve.
- Pour 1/3 of the hot milk mixture onto the melted chocolate and stir to incorporate.
- Add the remaining milk and repeat.
- Add the whipping cream and mix thoroughly.
- Briefly use an immersion blender to ensure mixture is thoroughly amalgamated.
- Cover with cling film and chill for 24 hours before using.
- If using 2 sheets of gelatine and double cream, whisk briefly after chilling before use. Or not. As you like.
For milk chocolate praline: add 75g praline paste when melting the milk chocolate
For flavouring with citrus: Use the zest of 1 fruit in the milk and allow to infuse for 15 minutes once heated. Strain out the zest and reheat before mixing.
For flavouring with Tonka bean: ½ a bean grated on a microplane is plenty. Infuse as above.
For spices: Use whole spices for preference (easer to fish out) and infuse as for the citrus zest.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: Robert May’s Chicken Pie