Wednesday, 1 April 2015

La Pastiera Napoletana - Neapolitan Easter Tart


Pastiera is a traditional tart from Naples, with a crisp pastry case and a rich, creamy, sweet filling made from ricotta, cooked wheat, eggs, spices and candied peel. Its origins go back along way; in pagan Naples, this tart was made to celebrate the coming of Spring but now firmly belongs to the Easter festivities. The name comes from the word 'pasta' which is what was originally used in the filling instead of the cooked wheat.

The wheat now comes in a tin, ready cooked and prepared just for making this wonderful tart. If you live near an Italian deli, you should be able to buy it easily. If not, you can find it online, called 'Grano Cotto' and it usually says 'per pastiera'.

This isn't something you can make and bake in a hurry; there's a long list of ingredients and it's quite time-consuming to prepare. However, it's not difficult and your reward is a wonderful, rich tart that feels suitably celebratory. It easily serves 8-10 people, perfect for dessert on Easter day. 

RECIPE
  • For the pastry
250g plain flour
125g butter
80g icing sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • For the filling
350g ricotta
300g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
100g candied peel
1 tesapoon cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon
30g butter
200ml milk
250g cooked wheat 
1 vanilla pod
25ml orange flower water

For the pastry, chop the butter and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. Take it out and put it into a food processor together with all the other pastry ingredients except the egg and egg yolk. With the double blade attachment, whizz until the mixture is the size of small peas. Then add the egg and egg yolk and pulse until it just starts coming together. Dump out onto a board and form the mixture into a ball, flatten it down a little, wrap in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 30 mins. 

While the pastry is chilling, you can make a start on the filling. In a saucepan, heat the milk, cooked wheat, lemon zest and butter together until it starts to simmer. Keep it simmering gently until it is thick and creamy. Remove from the heat and leave the mixture to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Lightly flour a work surface and roll the pastry out thinly and use it to line a 25cm round, loose-bottomed tin, leaving some to create a lattice effect on the top of the tart. Put it back in the fridge for at least 10 minutes while you continue with the filling. 

In a food processor, whizz together the eggs, ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla seeds (scraped out of the pod) and orange flower water until you have a smooth liquid without any lumps.

Add the two mixtures together and finally fold in the candied peel. Pour the mixture carefully into the prepared pastry case and cover the top with a pastry lattice. The filling should come almost up to the top. Brush the lattice lightly with egg wash.

Bake in the oven at 200°C for 60 minutes until the tart is puffed and golden. 

Leave to cool in the tin.

Keep in a cake tin in a cool place for about two days before eating.


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Deeply Chocolate Layer Cake



This is not a cake for those who are indifferent to chocolate. No, this is a cake for serious chocolate lovers; those with more delicate tastes may even decide to steer clear. But if you like intense chocolate flavours, then you're in for a treat.

The buttermilk and oil-based sponge is moist and fudgy with the added bonus of being easy to make and slice. The layers are sandwiched together with a mascarpone and nutella cream and then the whole thing is covered with a rich chocolate glaze. 

It works because it's all well-balanced - the sponge has sharpness from the buttermilk and sweetness from golden syrup, the filling is saved from being too sugary thanks to the hazelnuts, and the glaze, made with chocolate, water and a little butter, is dark and intense. I used 70% chocolate for this as I wanted some bitterness to counteract the sweetness of the filling but if you don't want such an intense taste, use dark chocolate with a lower cocoa content. The filling (equal quantities of nutella and mascarpone) sounds unlikely but is actually quite wonderful, the two ingredients working together to give an almost crème pâtissière consistency. If you're a nutella lover, be warned - the stuff is addictive and even those who don't much like nutella won't be able to resist.

ca865-we_should_cocoa_v3
This cake is my submission to Choclette’s We Should Cocoa challenge, which is being hosted this month by Maison Cupcake. The theme is layer cakes. And congratulations to Choclette who has just moved from Chocolate Log Blog to a fantastic new blog home, Tin and Thyme - I look forward to reading more of her posts about Cornish life and food. 


RECIPE
175g self raising flour 
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
140g caster sugar
2 eggs 
150ml sunflower oil 
150ml buttermilk
2 tablespoons golden syrup 

For the filling
150g mascarpone, room temperature
150g nutella, room temperature
a few drops vanilla extract

For the glaze:
250g dark chocolate
50g butter, cut into cubes
125ml water

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 20cm diameter

Sieve together the flour, bicarb and cocoa into a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Add the sugar and mix. Add the oil, buttermilk, syrup and eggs and beat until smooth. 


Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 35-40 mins or until the cake is cooked and a cake tester comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 


While the cakes are cooking and cooling, you can make the filling and glaze. 

For the filling:
Just put the mascarpone, nutella and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until smooth. Just make sure the ingredients aren't too cold otherwise they won't mix well. 

For the glaze:
Chop the chocolate and melt gently in the water until smooth, then beat in the butter. Cool until the icing is thick and spreadable.

When the cake is completely cold, cut carefully into three layers. Sandwich the layers together with the mascarpone and nutella cream, right up to the edges. Move to a wire rack and pour/spread with the chocolate glaze, covering top and sides completely. 

Leave to set.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Citrus and Honey Madeleines

Madeleines

The experience of tasting a madeleine, near the beginning of Swann's Way, is by far the most famous part of Marcel Proust's epic novel In Search of Lost Time. Even those who have never so much as opened a book by Proust are probably familiar with the episode: the author, as adult narrator, eats a madeleine dipped in tea, sparking memories of childhood afternoons at his aunt's home in Combray. 

The passage highlights the importance of the senses in jogging our memories and transporting us back to events and experiences in our past. Although madeleines never featured in my childhood, the smell of tea, the sound of china teacups clinking together gently on a tray and the smell of a cake baking in the oven (which I had baked with my mum earlier in the afternoon), take me straight back to Sunday afternoon tea when I was growing up - comforting, warm, cosy. 

And I am happy to report that even now, when I spend the weekend at home with my parents, Sunday tea is still served, with the same china teacups, on the same wooden tray and with a freshly-baked cake standing proudly on a flowered plate. Next time I might just make these madeleines to go with it though. 


It was actually Proust's mother who gave him the madeleine that provoked all his memories so I'm sending these to Treat Petite hosted alternately by Stuart from Cakeyboi (this month's host) and Kat from the Baking Explorer - the theme this month is Mum. 


Citrus Scented Madeleines


RECIPE

3 free-range eggs
150g caster sugar
175g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
8g baking powder
175g butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing
2g salt
10g honey

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. 

Brush the madeleine tray with melted butter then shake in a little flour to coat, tapping out the excess.

Whisk together the eggs and the sugar in a bowl until frothy. 

Lightly whisk in the remaining ingredients. Leave to stand for 30 minutes before carefully pouring into the prepared madeleine tray.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the mixture has risen a little in the middle and is fully cooked through. 

Transfer the madeleines to a wire rack and leave for a few minutes to cool slightly. These are best eaten within an hour of cooking.

Orange and lemon madeleines
                                        

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bara Brith Spiced Shortbread for St Dwynwen's Day

Bara Brith Spiced Shortbread for St Dwynwen's Day

It's St. Dwynwen's Day today, the Welsh day of love. My celebrations are restrained - there are no tacky red hearts, no chocolates declaring 'Dwi'n dy garu di' (I love you in Welsh), no balloons professing undying love; I've opted instead for these understated but undeniably delicious shortbread hearts. The delicate spicing together with the sweet sultanas works very well and the biscuits themselves are light and crisp.

It's no coincidence that I've chosen shortbread for my inspiration as the 25th January is a double Celtic celebration. All over Scotland this evening, Burns Night festivities will be taking place so whether you're partying with haggis and whisky or having a romantic, candlelit dinner for two, these biscuits are the answer.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus - Slàinte!

RECIPE

110g plain flour
40g cornflour
100g butter, room temperature - I use salted butter but you can use unsalted if you prefer. I do think though that in that case, you should add a pinch of salt to the mixture.
50g caster sugar
50g sultanas
1 teaspoon mixed spice

Either by hand or in a mixer, mix the butter and sugar until combined. Sift the flour, mixed spice and cornflour together and then add to the butter mixture. Finally add the sultanas and mix until the dough comes together. Shape into a rough disk, wrap in clingfilm and chill for about 30 minutes. 

Flour a work surface and roll the dough out thinly. Cut out the biscuits with whatever cutter you prefer, then place on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. 

Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the biscuits) and then move to a wire rack to cool.

Bara Brith Shortbread

Monday, 17 November 2014

Spiced Apple Cake

Spiced Apple Cake

It feels almost as though everything I've been cooking and baking recently has involved apples. This year's crop has been spectacular not only for the quantity of the apples, but also the quality. There's been piles of huge, great, red-cheeked spheres all over the kitchen, awaiting their time to shine in chutneys, crumbles, pies, apple sauce. My fingers ache from peeling. 

Although the crumbles and chutneys have all been wonderful, my favourite use for this fragrant fruit however is apple cake. This year I have veered away from my usual recipe, dispensing with the walnuts which sometimes give a slightly bitter flavour to the cake. Instead, I've added muscovado sugar for a deeper, more rounded flavour and have upped the spices. The result is a lightly spiced, incredibly moist, delicious cake. I can't think of a time during the day when you wouldn't want a slice of this - breakfast, mid-afternoon, supper time - perfect.

As apples are still in season, I'm sending this over to Katie from Feeding Boys who this month is hosting Ren Behan's Simple and in Season challenge. 

 Simple and in Season

The spicing in this cake makes it ideal for this time of year so I'm also sending it over to Janie from The Hedgecombers who is this month's host of Tea Time Treats (Bonfire Night), a challenge she runs alongside original creator and host Karen from Lavender and Lovage.

Teatime Treat Linky Party logo


RECIPE

150g butter
90g caster sugar
90g muscovado sugar
180g self raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 teaspoon allspice
half a teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs
3 medium-sized apples or 2 big ones, peeled, cored and chopped into small dice. 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 22cm diameter

Cream the butter and both kinds of sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sieve the flour and spices and fold in to the batter.

 Add the chopped apples, stirring well to combine.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.


If you want a slightly crunchy top, you can sprinkle over a spoon of demerara sugar just before it goes into the oven.

Put in the oven and bake for about 30-35 mins or until the cake is cooked and golden brown on top. It takes slightly longer to cook than a normal sponge cake because of the addition of moist apple.

Remove from the oven. Take the cake out of the tin as soon as possible (without burning yourself of course) and leave to cool on a wire rack.


Torta di Mela

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Gorgonzola and Leek Risotto

Leek and Gorgonzola Risotto

The garden is covered with golden brown leaves, the wind is whistling through every crack and crevice in the house and I can finally get back to wearing my beloved boots, hats and gloves - yes, it's autumn and I love it. It also means that I can start making risotto again; I know there are summery risotto recipes out there but really, for me, it's a cold weather dish.

This one, creamy with gorgonzola, is perfect for these increasingly dark evenings. Make it when you've got the kitchen to yourself - then switch on the lights, pour yourself a glass of wine and watch the wild weather outside from your warm, cosy haven, whilst stirring the risotto and contemplating life.

I am sending this to Speedy Suppers, the blog challenge hosted by Sarah at Maison Cupcake and Katie at Feeding Boysas the theme this month is cheese.


I am also entering my risotto (with extra leeks) into Extra Veg, a blog challenge run by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle (Utterly Scrummy) and hosted this month by Emily from A Mummy Too

Extra Veg event

RECIPE
Serves 2 generously

2 leeks
50g butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre hot vegetable stock
250g carnaroli or arborio rice
120g Gorgonzola
10g parmesan, grated

Chop the leeks very finely. Melt the butter with the oil in a wide saucepan, add the leeks and cook gently until softened, being careful not to colour them as leeks can turn very bitter if they start to brown.

When the leeks are soft, tip in the rice and stir well so that all the grains are coated in the buttery juices. Turn up the heat to medium and pour in the wine. Keep stirring until it is absorbed.

Start adding the stock, a ladleful at a time, making sure it is all absorbed before adding the next, stirring all the while to make sure the rice doesn't start to stick.

The rice should be cooked after about 18 minutes (it should still have a slight 'bite' to it). You might not need all the stock or you may need a little more (you could just add boiling water).

Add the blue cheese, roughly crumbling it in and stirring so that it melts into the risotto. You can also beat in the parmesan at this point or you can sprinkle it over just before eating if you prefer.


Gorgonzola Risotto

Monday, 22 September 2014

Coppa and Rocket Pizza

Coppa and rocket pizza

Although I love my job, it's always a bit of a struggle to ease myself back into the routine of work after a long, pleasure-filled summer holiday. However, after several years I think I've managed to hone my techniques to ensure a smooth transition with minimal post-holiday trauma. Take clothes for example: going straight from the sandal-and-short wearing days of summer to full-on formal work wear is guaranteed to lead to a feeling of melancholy. A gradual change is needed, replacing first sandals with shoes, then linens with heavier materials and longer sleeves until by mid-September, you're back in suits and jackets as though you've never worn anything else. 

The other important aspect to consider is food and drink. In my opinion, September, like January, is not a good month for making any new resolutions regarding alcohol or healthy eating. If you are suffering badly from back-to-work blues, aperitifs and cocktails in the garden are a great way of getting back in a holiday mood, even when there's work the next day. Food should be fun and frivolous - don't make the mistake of going straight into winter with heavy, rib-sticking stews and roasts. 

This pizza is perfect for September. It's good for prolonging a holiday feeling but is also substantial enough to take you comfortably through the darkening evenings. This particular topping, discovered recently on a trip back to Italy, combines the meaty flavour of coppa (a bit like prosciutto but using a different cut) with the peppery tang of rocket. It works wonderfully well and has become my current favourite. If you can't find coppa, prosciutto works well too.

Teatime Treat Linky Party logoThe theme for this month's Tea Time Treats is Mediterranean and as savoury dishes are allowed, I'm sending this one along; the challenge is hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie (this month's host) at The Hedgecombers.




Please don't think that it's not worth making your own pizza. The difference between real pizza and store-bought is incredible, they're like two different things. Also, it's really straightforward, does not take hours of kneading and is very rewarding. You don't need any special equipment apart from a couple of pizza trays and a very hot oven. 

RECIPE (makes enough for 3 or 4 pizzas)

For the dough

450g strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
7g (1 sachet) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon salt
approximately 300 ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

 Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and pour in about 200 ml of the water and the olive oil, mixing with your hands. Be prepared to add more water but do it gradually - you don't want it too wet (although it's not a disaster if this happens, just add more flour until you can knead it without it sticking to everything). Start kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, the fold it back and turn slightly. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes, it should feel smooth and springy when it's ready.

Form the dough into a ball and rub a little olive oil over the surface, so that it is lightly greased. Put it into a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for at least 2 hours, I've left it a lot longer than this and it doesn't seem to be a problem. The dough should more or less double in size.

When you're ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to the hottest possible setting  (240°C on mine). Divide the dough into four roughly equal parts (you can weigh them if you want to be really precise) and roll each one out. It may seem far too small to fit into your pizza tray and it will keep springing back first of all but do persevere. If you don't want it that thin, you can divide the dough into three parts rather than four.

TOPPING (per pizza)

About 2 tablespoons of passata
125g mozzarella (I use the normal mozzarella for pizza, not buffalo), thinly sliced
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

After it's been cooked:
4 slices of coppa
a handful of rocket leaves

Lightly grease the pizza trays and stretch the dough to fit. Then cover with the passata (it should just be a very thin layer), a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of oregano. Add the cheese, drizzle over the olive oil and put in the oven. It takes about 10 minutes to cook but keep an eye on it as all ovens vary. After about 8 minutes, I take the pizza off the tray and slide it back directly onto an oven shelf for the last minute or two.

Put the coppa and rocket on the pizza after it's been cooked, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Pizza