pastiera whole

Pastiera or Easter Ricotta Tart

pastiera whole I really admire those organised food bloggers who manage to post seasonal recipes before the event. I’m not quite sure what their secret is, but when it comes to Christmas or Easter or Halloween, I need to find out because I’m posting a recipe for the classic Easter dish of pastiera a week late instead.

The good news though is that it’s only a traditional Easter dish if you hail from Naples so technically there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make it in the next few weeks if you like the sound of it. Pastiera is made from pastry filled with cooked wheatberries, eggs and ricotta flavoured with cinnamon, candied peel and orange blossom water and it tastes deliciously of springtime sunshine and light evenings. It’s also much easier to make than I originally expected.

I had difficulty getting wheatberries or grano cotto so I used pearl barley instead. Several recipes suggested using cooked rice as well and I think it would be a wonderful way to use up leftover rice pudding. You do need to make the pastiera a day in advance to allow the flavours to combine but as I am not a proper Neapolitan nonna I didn’t take the traditional three days to create mine. Make it on a Saturday night before tucking in for Sunday lunch for something a bit different. I won’t tell if you don’t.

Pastiera (adapted from this Food 52 recipe here)

  • 250g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 150g cold butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 30ml ice cold water
  • 100g pearl barley (uncooked weight)
  • 250ml milk
  • 50ml cream
  • 100g candied peel
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 350ml ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 200g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • generous pinch of sea salt
  • icing sugar to serve

Begin by making the ricotta filling for the pastiera. Wisdom has it that freshly cracked eggs make it rise so you need to rest them overnight. I wasn’t that organised, but I did find that chilling the mixture for at least an hour made it easier to handle so don’t skip that stage.

Beat the ricotta, whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and orange blossom water together well with a fork. It will be alarmingly liquid at this stage and you’ll panic that you’ve done something wrong. You haven’t. Chill it in the fridge and it thickens nicely.

Next make  your pastry. I always always use Dan Lepard’s recipe for it and despite not being especially pastry confident, it works best for me. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until it disappears well. Beat the egg yolks into the water and add to the flour, mixing it in well. Combine to make a surprisingly soft and wet dough and then wrap it and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Prepare the barley for the filling by covering it with cold water and bringing to the boil. Skim any froth off the top and cook for about 20 minutes. Reserve the cooking water to make your own version of barley water, but drain the barley well before returning it to the pan.

This time add the milk and the candied peel and simmer it gently until the barley thickens into a porridgey texture and the fruit swells slightly. This took about 5 minutes for me. Take it off the heat and add the cream and lemon zest and allow to cool for about 20 minutes.

Flour your work surface well and then roll out your pastry to fit a 9 or 10 inch springform cake tin. Don’t cut the overhang yet and allow the pastry to chill for 20 minutes more in the fridge.

Combine the barley with the ricotta mix and stir it all together well. It will, frankly, look unappetising in colour in texture. Ignore the nagging voice that tells you this was a bad idea. It wasn’t. Carry on making it and  preheat the oven to 200℃.

Pour the barley ricotta mix into the chilled pastry shell and trim the overhang on the pastry neatly. Lay strips of pastry across the top of the pastiera to make a lattice effect, sticking them on with the leftover egg whites if needs be. Mine sank a bit as I think I cut them too wide and therefore too heavy. But it was nearly midnight at this stage and I didn’t care.

Bake the pastiera for 60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the pastry is biscuity beige. You need to turn it half way through to make sure the colouration is even on both sides if you are bothered by such things. Take it out and cool completely in the tin.

Chill until needed and then remove from the tin. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve in slices. The filling is surprisingly light in texture but is is quite rich so do what we did and start with small slices and work up to seconds. The pastiera will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge. I loved the flavour of the cinnamon and orange blossom water together as both were subtle but effective. It made a lovely change from chocolate or marzipan Easter treats!

pastiera slice

gur cake

Hot Chocolate Gur Cake

gur cakeI was walking home one day last week when a friend called me and said without much preamble ‘you know about donkey’s gudge, don’t you?’ Pausing slightly to see if the noise of the A23 had made me mishear, I hedged my bets and said ‘refresh my memory…’

My friend said impatiently ‘you know, the Irish cake made of cake’ and I remembered that what his Cork based family knew as ‘donkey’s gudge’ was what other Irish people know as gur cake after the Dublin expression for wide boys or ‘gurriers’. It uses leftover stale fruit cake soaked in liquid and put between pastry to give baked goods a new lease of life. I immediately thought of Caitriona’s recipe here and didn’t think to ask why Cork and Waterford folk call it donkey’s gudge*.

I passed the recipe onto my friend who wanted to make the cake for his mum and didn’t think much more of it until on Easter Sunday I realised I was never going to be able to eat all the hot cross buns I’d made. I had some pastry from making pastiera for Easter and realised it would be a shame not to make gur cake.

I decided to give mine a further inauthentic twist by soaking my hot cross buns in chocolate milk and a splash of cream to enhance the dark chocolate of the buns I made. I simply melted a bar of chocolate into the milk so this would be an excellent way to use up any Easter eggs you’ve tired of simply eating out the wrapper absent mindedly.

Hot Chocolate Gur Cake (adapted from Wholesome Ireland)

  • 500g stale cake or hot cross buns
  • 250ml milk
  • 100g dark chocolate
  • 50ml cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 250g shortcrust pastry
  • 25g caster sugar

This is incredibly easy to make, especially since I used the shop bought pastry I had in the house. I have a knack of making pastry shrink and I need to spend a weekend making it when there’s no pressure and getting it right. Easter Sunday is not that time.

Start by crumbling up your cake or hot cross buns into a large bowl. Heat the milk in a pan on the stove, breaking your chocolate into it and stirring gently until it melts into a lovely hot chocolate. Pour it over the crumbs and add the cream and cinnamon and vanilla extract. Leave to absorb the liquid for about 20 minutes (which is co-incidentally how long it took me to do my washing up to have space to roll out pastry.)

Lightly flour your work surface and roll the pastry out to about 2-3mm thin. Cut it in half and carefully place one piece into a lined brownie tray. Mine was 23cm square and about 8cm deep. Prick the pastry well with a fork. Put the soaked crumb mixture on top of the pastry, flattening it down well and making sure it is right into the corners. Cover with the remaining pastry and again prick well with a fork. Sprinkle with the caster sugar.

I chilled my cake for 20 minutes in the fridge to prevent the pastry shrinking when it cooked, but if you’ve worked quickly with the pastry you could just put it straight into a 160℃ oven for 90 minutes or until the pastry is cooked but not golden.

Allow the cake to cool completely on a rack before cutting into squares. I ate mine the next morning for breakfast when I was tired and hungover after a late night over Easter dinner and it was just the ticket. Richer and smoother thanks to the chocolate than the fruit squares my aunt Kathleen used to make or the Christmas pudding version I’ve done before, I really enjoyed this cake. I still have no idea how it got christened donkey’s gudge so if anyone can elaborate, please do!

*I believe people in the rest of Ireland call it Chester Cake but I couldn’t find any link to the city of the same name.

gur top down

Marshmallow coffee pie

Baileys Coffee Marshmallow Pie

Marshmallow coffee pie

I’ve been out of the blogging loop for a few weeks due to being generally busy on some other projects (a fancy way to say I cleared out all my cupboards and tidied the flat) and because Mister North was doing some tech stuff to the blog to give it a new lease of life. He may not have time to write here anymore because his design skills still work wonders. So thanks heavens National Pie Week came along to give me my mojo back.

As well as realising I’d been neglecting the blog, I also finally noticed this week that I’d never ever drunk Baileys and decided I should immediately rectify that before I was banned from ever entering Ireland again for lack of patriotism. Thanks to the kindness of Bord Bia and Ocado, I visited the Irish shop on the Ocado site and bought a bottle forthwith.

I had an idea about a Baileys pie of some kind but thought it might just have to be eating a pie while drinking Baileys until I saw someone make an Irish Coffee in a cafe this week. I wanted that combination of alcohol, creaminess and sugar and decided to see if I could play around with a pie that had a coffee filling and a whipped marshmallow centre. I could always hit the bottle if it didn’t work…but I doubted there was such a thing as bad pie. Read more

beaters

Dos and Doughnuts in the Kitchen

beaters

As I’ve mentioned in a few posts this summer, I haven’t been spending huge amounts of time in the kitchen. My cooking mojo seems to have taken the holiday I haven’t and I’ve not been venturing much beyond finally getting my (non cream based) carbonara just right, breaking records for the number of frittatas one person can eat and eating lots of salad and fruit. So when I was invited to a Bank Holiday picnic it seemed like the time had come to start making a bit of an effort again.

In between not cooking very much and buying eggs in such numbers my local shop actually laugh at me, I’ve also joined Instagram. I’ve really been enjoying it, finding it complements Twitter nicely. I expected it to be about 50% photos of cats and kids but surprisingly there are few of either. What there are a lot of are photos of doughnuts.

London is in the grip of doughnut mania. I know they’ve been gradually making their way from cop show cliche to food blogger fascination for a while. St John started their journey from Krispy Kreme kiosk to the current in-thing (with a little help from The Faerietale Foodie) but call them beignets, donuts or gravy rings, they are everywhere this summer.

Inspired by the reverence with which doughnut fiends speak of Justin Gellatly, formerly of St John Bakery and now of Bread Ahead in Borough Market and because he’s a fellow Ebury author, I thought I would make his legendary recipe for doughnuts and fill them with a wonderful this lemon ricotta semolina custard by Ruby Tandoh. Her custard slice recipe with this is peerless and I needed an excuse to make the filling again.

I almost instantly ran into a problem with Justin’s recipe. It called for fresh yeast and at 8pm on a Friday night, that’s not something I could lay my hands on easily. I subbed in half the amount of dried active yeast by adding it to 50ml of the water required in the recipe and allowing it to bubble for 15 minutes before I started mixing.

And there in lay the second problem with the recipe: the mixing. It called for a stand mixer or Kitchen Aid and involved almost 20 minutes of active mixing in stages. Thing is, I don’t have a Kitchen Aid mixer and I have a serious hump about the number of recipes by big name authors and cooks these days that assume the majority of people own a piece of kitchen equipment that start at £300 and are the size of a small Sherman tank.

I’ve lost count of the number of the TV chef recipes (yes, I am looking you Ms Pascale and Mister Oliver. Stay behind after class please) that tell you to buck everything into the mixer bowl, turn it on and come back after a certain amount of time. At risk of sounding decreipt and resistant to change, getting a machine to do it all for you isn’t cooking to me, it’s assembly. Where is the education? The cues to look for? The touch, taste and feel of food? The explaining why you do something? The alchemy when it comes together?

It’s as sanitised as those supermarket ‘just cook’ ready meals that feature a chicken breast, a sachet of sauce and suggest the veg on the side. One step up from simply piercing the plastic, they are cooking at the most basic level of the word. I see nothing wrong with a proper ready meal, but something about simply preparing components with emotional detachment but calling it cooking bothers me. Even with the slow cooker, I avoid this style of just warming ingredients up, making simple, quick dishes that are still actively cooked and created in a method that teaches and engages you with your food and a specific method of cooking.

I’m well aware some of this resentment of Kitchen Aid cooking comes from the fact I can’t afford something that cost more than my washing machine (and that I haven’t had the chance to slip onto a wedding list yet) and that I’ve never really found a time when it would be properly worthe the cost and storage space. But most it comes from the annoyance that as I work hard to learn to write recipes that both work and teach people to cook, many big names take the path of least resistance and education (or effort.) It doesn’t take much to do a Nigella and give non machine methods alongside.

This isn’t to say that I’m a Luddite who does everything by hand and owns a mangle (although my dad owned a car that had to be hand cranked sometimes when I was a kid…) I love my stick blender and its little chopper bowl attachment. Clearly I’m a bit obsessed by slow cookers. I can completely understand why people with limited time, energy or grip use food processors or breadmakers. But I still like to get involved with my food and feel and see the changes rather than let something else take all the strain and responsibility all the time.

So having started making the doughnuts, I mixed mine with my electric hand whisk. The beaters simply created something akin to a dough tornado and did little. I used the dough hooks and mixed and mixed and mixed. I’ve made marshmallows quite a few times and they were as easy as falling off a log in comparison. Standing holding the electric whisk and beating the dough endlessly made me consider trawling Gumtree for any unwanted stand mixers as my arm hurt and my hands cramped.

However all the buzz told me Justin Gellatly’s doughnuts are the best in the world, so I thought it would be worth it. The fact the dough was both sticky and greasy wasn’t worrying me too much. It had to chill overnight after all so that would sort the Copydex texture, wouldn’t it?

Sadly no. Next morning the dough was just as greasily elastic and globular as the night before. The only hint in the recipe was that it should be smooth and elastic and as it was both those things as well I was baffled. This is where I needed the explanation of the sensations of cooking not just an instruction manual on timings. I know Justin is a commercial baker and uses machinery, but if you’re writing books for home cooks, that’s not much use to me.

I stickily rolled them into balls and proved them them again. Instead of looking taut and tight like Justin advised they were slacker and softer than one of my thighs and when I obeyed the instruction to cover them with clingfilm, they stuck to it like a clingy child and had to prised apart.

Getting them off the floured trays and into the oil was a disaster. They expanded into strings like cheap mozzarella, sticking first to me, then to the scraper, then to the side of the pan and finally flopping wetly into the hot oil and puffing up momentarily before subsiding into a lopside comma shape. I tried five of them, each one getting worse and more oil logged than the previous one before I gave up.

I’m genuinely not sure which of us was more deflated by the experience. Despite getting my oil to exactly 180℃ as per the recipe, the shape shifting of the doughnuts meant the outside was Snog Marry Avoid contestant tan while the middle was gluey white. The cooked bits were as bready as Mother’s Pride and even dipped in sugar, tasted bland. I threw the other 15 lumps of squish in the bin and went to M&S to stock up on dulce de leche teacakes instead.

Instinct tells me it was probably the change in yeasts that was the problem, compounded by the inability to mix the dough like instructed, but the whole experience left me frustrated. It’s a complicated recipe but relying on a costly piece of kit and a difficult to obtain type of yeast with no allowance for home cooking, irritated me. Quite simply why write commercial recipes for home kitchens without an attempt to adapt?

Am I being harsh? Or should recipe writers have a duty to cater to the majority of their readers without explicitly explaining why you need a certain piece of equipment? And does it annoy you when only the mechanical version is given or am I the only person in town still doing it the old fashioned way?

 

froise sliced

Cherry Brown Butter Froise

froise slicedA froise you say? I’m sure you make them all the time and the word just trips off your tongue into your menu repertoire. Or if you’re anything like me, you’d never heard of it until very recently.

I’ve been loving Rachel Kelly aka The Dinner Doctor‘s series at the Guardian on how to use up leftovers and under her recent column on milk was a froise. I clicked through to her blog and saw that it’s a traditional British dish using a souffle enriched batter to make a layered pancake. Rachel made her version with bacon and it sounded amazing.

In fact it sounded so amazing and easy that it went to the very top of my ‘to make soon’ list (an evergrowing Evernote folder actually). Except that when I came to acquaint myself finally with the froise I didn’t have any bacon, but I did have two pounds of cherries. It’s not often you can substitute cherries for bacon, but one of the very best things about pancakes is that they often work as well as a sweet dish as a savoury one so I decided to make it a dessert dish instead.

My first attempt was on the hob and I found my froise too thin for the chunkier cherry filling and the bottom burned while the top took so long to cook the whole thing was slightly rubbery in texture. It had plenty of potential and flavour so I decided on a wet Sunday afternoon to give it another go. This time I doubled the proportions of the batter, macerated the cherries for added sweetness, allowed the butter to brown gently for extra flavour and baked it all in the oven and it came together perfectly.

Cherry Brown Butter Froise (serves 4 with extra fruit or creme fraiche)

  • 250g fresh cherries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 25g salted butter
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 300ml milk
  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 drops almond extract (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon pearl sugar (optional)

Start the dish with your cherries. I used fresh ones because one of my local stalls is selling them for £1.50 per pound weight but you could use defrosted frozen ones or if you can get your hands on them from a Polish shop or Lidl or Aldi, some jarred sour Morello ones.

Stone the fresh ones. I simply split mine in two and squeezed the stone out which was surprisingly quick. Put the halved cherries in a shallow dish and scatter with the sugar and vanilla extract. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours until the fruit softens and takes on the additional flavours.

Using a cast iron or oven proof frying pan, gently heat the butter on a medium heat, allowing it to foam up and keep cooking to the point where the milk solids start to caramelise gently. Mine took about 10 minutes and once it started to foam and bubble, I watched it like a hawk because brown butter or buerre noisette is glorious, but burnt butter is not.

While the butter browns, preheat the oven to 200℃ and  put the flour, egg yolks and milk into a large bowl and combine well with an electric whisk. Clean the beaters well and whisk the egg whites until stiff. You could add another tablespoon of sugar halfway through if you are using sour cherries. Add the beaten egg white into the batter and whisk together quickly. It will be pale, golden and puffed right up. Add the almond extract if liked.

As soon as the butter browns and smells nutty, pour in half the froise mixture. The residual heat of the pan and the butter will allow it to cook just slightly so the base sets gently without the dreaded burn. Pour any liquid off the macerated cherries into the remaing froise batter and layer the cherries over the froise in the pan. Try and keep them as a single layer so they don’t drop down and sink.

Pour the remaining batter over it all and then sprinkle with the pearl sugar. I forgot it the second time and it still tasted great but I missed the contrasting crunch. Bake the froise in the oven for 30 minutes. It will puff up and become a glorious toasted colour on top. Loosen the edges of it as soon as it leaves the oven and allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes.

You can serve it warm from the pan at this stage or allow it to cool in there completely before being lifted out and served cold in wedges. It keeps well for up to 2 days, wrapped in a tea towel and makes a great packed lunch or picnic dish. This made a welcome change from the frittatas I make when I want to make a filling breakfast ahead of time and is a great way to use up slightly drooping fruit or savoury leftovers such as potatoes or roast meat. It’s made a swift move into my ‘dishes I love’ folder in no time.

PS: my dad emailed to say he knew this dish from his Scottish childhood as an Ashet pancake, derived from the French word for dish ‘assiette’. It would have been savoury and served with a small limp 1950s salad. He preferred the brown butter.