Around the world in 80 bakes, no.74: Chocolate brownies from the United States

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.74: Chocolate brownies from the United States

For my first bake from the United States, I chose my personal favourite of Californian carrot cake. But if I’m being honest, the archetypal American bake (leaving aside apple pie, which is really Dutch), is the chocolate brownie – born in the U.S.A and the favourite of millions. Somehow, I’ve managed to live all these years and eat countless brownies without ever having tried to make a batch, so it was about time to try.

There are a million variations on the basic brownie recipe, mainly to do with how gooey you do or don’t like your brownies, but also about choices of nuts and additional flavourings (there are even “blondies” if you prefer white chocolate or you want to omit chocolate altogether). If you are keen to calibrate your recipe carefully to your own taste, Felicity Cloake in The Guardian is probably a good place to start. This being my first time, I went for authentic Americanness rather than perfection and headed for Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker’s The Joy of Cooking, probably the most famous American cookbook of all time and the book bought by my mother in New York when my family lived there briefly in the early 1960s.

On the grand scale of things, brownies are not a difficult bake: there’s just one tricky bit, namely knowing when they’re done. Again, this is a function of how gooey you want them: I got panicky and left mine in too long, so they were considerably too cake-like for my taste. So don’t use the “skewer has to come out dry” test if you want them remotely sticky.

With my usual aversion to measuring things in cups, I’ve turned everything to metric.

Brownies are, by tradition, square or rectangular. I used a pretty standard 30cm x 40cm baking tin which resulted in fairly thin brownies. If you like them thicker, either go for a smaller tin or multiply up the recipe.

  • 100g chocolate (I used Menier 70%)
  • 60g unsalted butter
  • 4 eggs (mine were of mixed size and weighed about 200g in total)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 350g sugar
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • 100g pecans
  • 120g flour
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan
  2. Prepare your baking tin by lining its base with baking paper
  3. Melt the butter and chocolate in a double boiler, blend well and leave to cool.
  4. Add salt to the eggs and beat at high speed until frothy and mousse-like.
  5. Still beating, add the sugar gradually and then the vanilla essence.
  6. Gently fold in the chocolate-butter mixture.
  7. Sirt in the flour and stir.
  8. Chop the pecans coarsely, add them and stir.
  9. Pour the mixture into your baking tin, smooth it out so that it’s level.
  10. Bake for around 20 minutes – less for more fudgey, more for more cakey.
  11. Cut into squares or rectangles. For the full Americana (and particularly if, like mine, you’ve overbaked the brownies so they’re too dry, they go well with blueberries and whipped cream.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.73: Nân Barbari – Persian flatbread

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.73: Nân Barbari – Persian flatbread

There have been many types of flatbread in this series. Persian flatbread – nân barbari – is my favourite, by a long way: its pillowy texture and crisp top are a winner. The recipe I’ve used is adapted from Sabrina Ghayour’s warmly recommended Persiana; it’s slightly westernised in that I don’t think they use melted butter for the top in Iran and I’ve westernised it further in that suspect that a self-respecting Iranian baker wouldn’t use a stand mixer either. But these are details: this is reliably the best flatbread I know and it works with just about any Middle Eastern dishes, not just Persian ones.

This recipe makes two flatbreads, which feeds around 10-12 people as part of a buffet including one other starch like rice or couscous. The multiple kneading and resting process described here results reliably in a fabulously stretchy dough; you could try taking shortcuts on it but it’s always worked so well for me that I try not to.

  • 7g dried yeast
  • 500 ml warm water (around 40℃)
  • 700g strong white flour
  • 15g salt (Sabrina is a diehard devotee of Maldon salt, I’m not all that convinced)
  • 75ml olive oil
  • 20g butter
  • A handful of nigella, sesame or caraway seeds
  1. Mix yeast with 50ml of the water, leave to rest for 5 minutes or so until frothy
  2. Put the flour and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer, along with 50ml of the olive oil.
  3. Add the yeast mix and the remaining water to the bowl and combine thoroughly.
  4. With the dough hook at low speed, knead for 7 minutes. With a scraper, take the dough of your hook, reshape into a single ball.
  5. Leave to stand for 10 minutes, then knead for another 2 minutes, then recombine the dough. Repeat this three times in total; after the second time, add the rest of your oil.
  6. After your third 2 minute knead, reform the dough into a single ball, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise. Sabrina suggests three hours for the dough to triple in size; I bailed out after 2½ hours, by which time the dough was coming close to the top of the bowl. Your yeast and kitchen temperature will vary.
  7. Line two baking trays with silicone sheets or baking paper. Preheat your oven to 220℃ fan.
  8. Divide the dough into two equal parts and stretch each part into a large rectangle covering most of the length of your baking trays and around half as wide as they are long. Actually, you can pretty much use any shape you like, but try to make them of fairly even thickness.
  9. If you like, cut a pair of slashes into each flatbread, which will make your bread easier to “tear and share” at the table.
  10. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for another 40 minutes.
  11. Brush the top with melted butter, and sprinkle your chosen seeds over the top.
  12. Bake for around 15-20 minutes until golden. The loaves should feel springy if you press them gently. 

The ideal timing is for the bread to come out of the oven so that you can cool it to around 10 minutes before taking it to the table. Most of us don’t actually manage this and it doesn’t really matter.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.72: Tarte Tatin from France

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.72: Tarte Tatin from France

Yes, we all know the (probably apocryphal) history of the upside down tart made by mistake. But the reason for including a Tarte Tatin in this series is that quite simply, it’s the single thing that I bake that is most requested by my family. There’s something about the way that caramel blends into the fruit that is quite irresistible.

Tarte Tatin is most commonly made with apples and there’s plenty of room for debate as to which variety of apple to use. The most authentic version uses a French variety called “Reine de Reinettes”, which is equivalent to an English “King of Pippins”, but neither of these are readily available in UK supermarkets. Many modern French recipes specify Granny Smiths, although these can be very acid and even a touch watery. You’ll also see Golden Delicious: the trouble here is that there are some wonderful Golden Delicious apples around, particularly in Italy, but also some really powdery, tasteless ones. When I’m not using apples from the tree in our garden, I tend to use a half-half mix of Braeburn or Jazz and Granny Smith.

However, for this post, I’m not using apples at all. A fabulous new French restaurant, Les Deux Garçons, has opened down the road from our home and they do a stunning pear Tarte Tatin. Our apple tree has finished producing for the year, but we have a glut of slightly underripe pears which, the chef at Les Deux Garçons explained, should be perfect for making a Tatin. I checked this out and it worked like a dream: a gentler, more subtle flavour than the apple, but very fruity and truly scrumptious. The only real downside of using pears (at least our ones) is that they release at lot more moisture than apples, so any surplus caramel is considerably more runny than I’d like.

Depending on your level of patience and skill, there are various ways of cutting your fruit. The posh way is to cut out a circular core with a dedicated apple-corer, and then cut the fruit in half. This is fairly difficult to execute, but allows you  to pack your fruit really tightly in a regular shape. For those of you with less time and patience (like me), just peel each fruit, chop it into four and cut out a triangle around the pips, which is what I’ve done here. I remember one recipe which suggested cutting each fruit into three: I tried this and it struck me as particularly tricky to do with no obvious benefit.

You can use pretty much any pastry: shortcrust, rough puff or full puff – just don’t go for a sweet pastry because the caramel makes the tart plenty sweet enough as it is. In this recipe, I’ve gone for a rough puff because I really like the flakiness, but it’s a fairly lengthy process. You can always use shop-bought puff pastry instead of making your own, but try and find the stuff that’s made with butter (unless, of course, you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant).

Some twenty years ago, I made an impulse purchase of a dedicated ceramic Tarte Tatin dish. At the time, it seemed a ridiculous overpriced indulgence. Since then, the number of tarts I’ve made in it must be approaching three figures, which makes it seem quite reasonable, really. The truth is, though, that you can use pretty much any pan that has sides which are 5cm or so deep and is robust enough both to be used both on the hob and in the oven.

The quantities here are for my dish, which is around 29cm in diameter and produces 8 generous portions. Adjust the quantities for the size of your own dish but remember that it’s a square law, so you’ll need just under half the quantities for a 20cm dish and 1/4 for a 15cm one.

The rough puff pastry

  • 200g plain flour (I use OO grade) plus some more for dusting and rolling
  • 180g butter, frozen
  • 100ml (approximately) ice cold water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  1. If you have time, measure out the flour and put in the freezer for half an hour or so before you start.
  2. Put the flour into the bowl of your food processor.
  3. Grate 30g of the butter and add to the bowl; process until you have a fine mixture
  4. Add the lemon juice and most of the water and process some more. You want the dough to be pliable but not actually sticky. Take it out of the food processor, bring it together into a ball, adding a bit more water or flour as needed to get to a good consistency.
  5. Wrap the dough in cling film and freeze for 30 minutes
  6. Just before taking the dough out, grate the rest of the butter
  7. Flour your board and rolling pin, take the dough out and roll into a thin rectangle
  8. Do a book fold: add half the butter to two thirds of one end of the rectangle, fold the unbuttered end over, then fold the other end over.
  9. Seal the edges, roll the rectangle out again, turning it by 90 degrees. Repeat the book fold process with the second half of the butter.
  10. Wrap the dough in the cling film again and freeze for another 20 minutes (now, by the way, is about the right time to start on your filling).
  11. Take the dough out again, roll it out and do another book fold. Now it’s back into the freezer for 20 minutes and do it again. You will have done five book folds in total.
  12. Finally, you’re ready to roll your pastry into a thin circle, big enough to overlap the edges of your dish. Don’t worry about making it a perfect circle: you’ll be tucking it in around the edges and if there are some huge areas of excess, you can trim them off.
  13. If you have time, measure out the flour and put in the freezer for half an hour or so before you start.
  14. Put the flour into the bowl of your food processor.
  15. Grate 30g of the butter and add to the bowl; process until you have a fine mixture
  16. Add the lemon juice and most of the water and process some more. You want the dough to be pliable but not actually sticky. Take it out of the food processor, bring it together into a ball, adding a bit more water or flour as needed to get to a good consistency.
  17. Wrap the dough in cling film and freeze for 30 minutes
  18. Just before taking the dough out, grate the rest of the butter
  19. Flour your board and rolling pin, take the dough out and roll into a thin rectangle
  20. Do a book fold: add half the butter to two thirds of one end of the rectangle, fold the unbuttered end over, then fold the other end over.
  21. Seal the edges, roll the rectangle out again, turning it by 90 degrees. Repeat the book fold process with the second half of the butter.
  22. Wrap the dough in the cling film again and freeze for another 20 minutes (now, by the way, is about the right time to start on your filling).
  23. Take the dough out again, roll it out and do another book fold. Now it’s back into the freezer for 20 minutes and do it again. You will have done five book folds in total.
  24. Finally, you’re ready to roll your pastry into a thin circle, big enough to overlap the edges of your dish. Don’t worry about making it a perfect circle: you’ll be tucking it in around the edges and if there are some huge areas of excess, you can trim them off.

The fruit and caramel filling

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Around 8 medium to large apples or pears (see above)
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 50g butter
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃
  2. Put the lemon juice into a bowl big enough to hold all your fruit
  3. Peel and chop the fruit (see above for details). As you do each one, put the pieces into the bowl and coat them with juice – this will help to stop them discolouring.
  4. Put your dish onto the hob at medium heat. Spread the sugar over it in an even layer. Keep heating and stirring until you have a smooth caramel. How long you keep going is very much a matter of personal taste: if you take it off fairly early, at a sort of butterscotch colour, you will have a smooth, gentle flavour. Leave it on for longer and you will get to a dark colour and a flavour that is stronger and more bitter: I’ve had both in perfectly respectable French restaurants, so it’s really up to you.
  5. Remove from heat, add butter, stir in until smooth. The caramel will froth alarmingly, but don’t be frightened. And if bits of hardened caramel stick to your spoon, just hack them off. They’ll melt into the rest in the oven even if they don’t do so straightaway.
  6. Array the apples or pears into your dish, packing them as best you can to get a reasonably level top. If  you used quarters, once you’ve filled the dish with one layer, cut the remaining quarters in half and use them to fill in the gaps. 
  7. Spread pastry on top, trim off any large bits of excess, and tuck the rest in around the sides. Pierce the pastry in lots of places: you want steam to be able to escape.
  8. Optionally, sprinkle a little more 
  9. Bake until golden. Your oven may differ, but mine took around 40-50 minutes.
  10. Take out from oven and leave for around 20-30 minutes.
  11. Now say a quick imprecation to your favourite deity to stop pieces of fruit staying stuck to the dish (I tend to go for “Bismillah” because my favourite Persian cookery book specifies it at a critical point in its main rice recipe), cover your dish with a flat heatproof plate or wooden board and turn the whole lot upside down.leave at least 30 mins, then turn it over onto a plate or board, then remove the tin in the fervent hope that the tart has fallen out onto your board (the caramel will run, by the way, particularly if you used pears, so make provision for dribbles). If your deity wasn’t looking kindly on you, there may be a need for some swift repair work.
  12. If you’ve timed it such that you can serve the tart warm, so much the better. But it’s pretty good cold as well. Either way, vanilla ice cream makes a great accompaniment; a splash of Calvados doesn’t hurt either.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.71: Westfälischer Pumpernickel from Germany

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.71: Westfälischer Pumpernickel from Germany

We’re now into the last ten bakes in this series, and I’m going to stop insisting on a different country for each bake: rather, I’m going to revisit some of the countries we’ve already looked at where we’ve missed recipes that seem so important that it seem crazy to leave them out just because I’ve included another bake from that country. Phileas Fogg might object.

I’m going to start with Germany and the darkest, blackest rye bread called Pumpernickel, and more particularly with the original version from Westphalia (“Westfälischer Pumpernickel” in German), which has a baking time of 24 hours, the longest of any bread I know. The idea is that the very slow, low temperature bake imparts a particular colour and flavour to the bread in a way that you just don’t get by adding colouring agents, even natural ones like malt extract or molasses. The resulting bread, sliced thinly, is the best thing in the world to accompany dishes like smoked salmon or gravadlax.

 The long baking time makes this version impractical for many commercial bakeries, so many other processes get used, usually going for a higher temperature, shorter bake, and often adding some plain wheat flour to the rye in order to get some gluten structure. The version I’ve done is certainly tricky to handle – I haven’t got it 100% right on this first try (I’ll explain what needs to be done differently) but I think this is going to be a bread that I revisit many times.

I went for an amalgam of various German recipes (most notably this one) and the instructions in Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters.

The first key to pumpernickel is the use very coarse, dark rye flour. This is something you can’t necessarily get in the shops, so I’ve started with rye flakes and run them through the food processor. I did this fairly lightly, resulting in a loaf with a very grainy structure that the Germans would call “Vollkornbrot”. I love it – you may wish to grind down the rye flakes or grains rather more than I did. I also added some sunflower seeds, which one sees in several German recipes.

You’ll need a sourdough starter, home made or bought. My regular sourdough starter is made purely with dark rye flour: I use 90g at a time and replenish with 30g flour and 60g water. You will probably have your own version.

This isn’t a labour-intensive bake, but it takes a long time: you need to start around three days before you intend to eat the bread.

Day 1: production sourdough mix and main seed mix

  • 90g dark rye sourdough starter
  • 90g dark rye flour
  • 180g cold or tepid water
  • 350g rye flakes
  • 100g sunflower seeds
  • 270g boiling water
  1. Make the production sourdough: mix the sourdough starter with the rye flour and the cold/tepid water. Cover and leave at room temperature. (Don’t forget to refresh your starter).
  2. Meanwhile, make the main seed mix. Take 300g of the rye flakes and blitz them in a food processor for a minute or two until you have extremely coarse meal. Just how long you blitz for is up to you: next time, I would probably go a little finer than my first attempt than what you see here in the photos.
  3. Add the remaining re flakes, the sunflower seeds and the boiling water. Mix thoroughly (the texture will be something of a sludge). Cover.
  4. Leave both mixtures at room temperature for 16 hours or more.

Day 2 – get the bread into the oven

  • Sunflower or other neutral oil for greasing
  • 10-20g salt. I used 10g of sea salt, which wasn’t enough; I’ll be going for 20g next time. It seems to me that if you use conventional rock salt, you need less.
  1. Preheat oven to 160℃ conventional
  2. Choose a loaf tin: the quantities above were about right for a xx tin. It’s ideal to use a loaf tin with a lid (a “Pullman tin”); if you don’t have one, you’ll be having to improvise a lid with a layer of baking paper, an inverted roasting tray and something heavy to weight it down.
  3. Combine your two mixtures and the salt, mixing thoroughly. Some recipes suggest that you knead the dough with a dough hook at this point, for 10 minutes or so: personally, I can’t see the point if you’re using an all-rye mixture which isn’t going to form significant amounts of gluten anyway. I did, however, leave it for half an hour.
  4. Grease your loaf tin with oil and pour the dough into it, pressing it into the corners and forming a flat top (which should come up around ⅔ or ¾ of the way to the top).
  5. Put the tin into a deep-sided pan with water coming up to around half the height of your tin.
  6. Bake for an hour at 160℃, then reduce to 100℃ and continue baking for at least 24 hours.
  7. The bread will be done when it reaches an internal temperature of around 90℃. After the 24 hours prescribed in the recipe, mine wasn’t close, so I turned the oven up to 110℃ and gave it another two hours, by which time the temperature was 82℃ and I wimped out. I shouldn’t have done – another hour would have been better.

Day 3 – bread out of oven

  1. Take the bread out of the oven and wrap it in a cloth. Leave at room temperature

Day 4

  1. Slice thinly – your pumpernickel is ready to eat, preferably with gravadlax, cream cheese and dill sauce!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.70: Kue Lapis Legit – “thousand layer cake” from Indonesia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.70: Kue Lapis Legit – “thousand layer cake” from Indonesia

Several multi-layer cakes have featured in this series. But there’s one multi-layer cake to rule them all, which is distinguished by the thinness of the layers and the deliciousness of the caramelisation of each. It’s from the unlikely provenance of Indonesia, where it was originally baked by Dutch colonists, and it goes under several names. In Indonesian, it’s Kue Lapis Legit (Lapis Legit for short); in Dutch, its Spekkoek, named because the stripy layers that you see in cross-section reminded the Dutch of the layers in pork belly (“spek”).

What makes Lapis Legit unique is the cooking method: you spread a thin layer of fairly liquid batter over the cake and cook it under the grill (Americans: broiler) until brown and caramelised, repeating this many times to form the characteristic brown and yellow stripes of the cake’s cross section.

In neighbouring Sarawak (the half of Borneo that is in Malaysia rather than Indonesia), they have elevated Kek Lapis (as they call it there) to a fine art, using multiple colours for the layers and cutting the blocks to form intricate patterns. I’m sticking to the basic yellow-and-brown version, starting from this recipe in “Daily Cooking Quest” by Minnesota-based Indonesian cook Anita.

Although the cake looks complex, it’s not excessively time-consuming, certainly not so by comparison with some of the bread and patisserie items in this blog: it took me around two hours end-to-end plus half an hour’s cooling time. However, unlike normal cakes, that’s two hours of constant attention – there are virtually no periods of down time in which you can do something else while the cake is in the oven.

And the results, even on a first attempt, were absolutely worth it – one of the best and most interestingly different cakes I’ve made.

Setting up

  1. Preheat your oven to 200℃ fan.
  2. Use a cake tin with a removable base. If possible, use a square tin, because the cake cuts into rectangles really nicely: mine is 22cm square and worked OK, but 18-20cm would work better, giving you the opportunity for more layers. Line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides with butter.
  3. You will need three bowls for your stand mixer. I only have two, so I improvised by making the sabayon mix in a separate copper bowl and using a hand mixer to whisk it, thus avoiding scraping and washing up in mid process.

The butter base

  • 300g butter
  • 120g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tbs rum
  • 90g plain flour
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground mace (if you have it – I didn’t)
  1. If your butter isn’t yet at room temperature, chop it into small pieces and leave it for a few minutes to soften.
  2. In your first mixing bowl, combine the butter, condensed milk and rum. With the standard beater, mix at medium speed until fluffy (Anita says 8 minutes – mine took half that).
  3. Mix flour salt and spices and add to the bowl, mix for another minute or so until smoothly combined.

The sabayon mix

  • 12 eggs
  • 85g caster sugar
  1. Separate the eggs: put 12 yolks in one bowl and 6 whites into another, which ou’ll be using for the meringue part of the cake mix (discard the other 6 whites, or keep them for making other stuff).
  2. Add the sugar to the egg yolks and whisk at high speed until the reach the consistency of thick cream. They’ll never quite achieve the stiffness of whipped cream, but you can get close.

The meringue mix

  • 6 egg whites from above
  • 55g caster sugar
  • ¼ tsp cream of tartar
  1. Using the whisk of your stand mixer, beat the eggs at high speed until soft and frothy
  2. Add the sugar and cream of tartar, and beat at high speed until you have a stiff meringue

Putting it together

  1. If the sabayon mix has gone a bit liquid while you were making the meringue, whisk it for another minute or so.
  2. Add the sabayon mix into your butter base and mix using the standard beater until smoothly combined.
  3. Fold the meringue into your mixture until smoothly combined, with no bits of unmixed egg white left.
  4. Pour a couple of ladelfuls of mix into your cake tin and spread it so that you have a thin, even layer. Ideally, you want around 3-4mm thickness (on the photos here, I was somewhat over that).
  5. Put in the middle shelf of the oven and bake until the top is golden. You’ll need something like 8 minutes, but check it after 5-6, because it really depends on your oven and on the thickness of your mixture.
  6. Take the cake out of the oven and switch it to its top grill setting at maximum temperature (or set up your separate grill if that’s what you have). Move the oven shelf to its highest position.
  7. Pour another ladelful or so of mixture into the tin. It will go more liquid as it contacts the hot surface. Your objective now is to get the thinnest possible layer of mixture that completely covers the whole cake: I achieved this by the combination of using an offset spatula and by tilting the tin in different directions until the coverage was smooth.
  8. Put the cake under the grill, and cook until golden brown. This will take between one and two minutes: you need to watch it like a hawk because the difference between uncaramelised yellow and burnt can be as little as 20 seconds.
  9. Take the cake out and repeat until you have run out of mixture. You’re trying to get as many layers as you can – I managed around 8.
  10. Once you’ve grilled the last layer, take the cake out and cool it in the tin for around half an hour.
  11. Finally, put a knife around the sides to make sure the cake has come away from all four sides, and take the cake out of the tin (if the tin has a removable base, this should be very easy).
  12. Enjoy…
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.69: Wienerbrød, aka Danish pastry

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.69: Wienerbrød, aka Danish pastry

So we all know what Danish pastry is, don’t we?

Well, possibly not. If your idea of “a Danish” is the syrup-coated sugar hit provided with overbrewed coffee in the average American conference room (I have scars from my corporate days), you will either love or hate the idea of the real thing: a delightfully flaky treat which is far lighter and has far more flavour and less sugar than you’re used to.

Anyway, Danish pastry isn’t really Danish, or at least not in origin. It was first made in Denmark by Austrian bakers (possibly as a result of a bakery strike in 1850), and the Danes call it Wienerbrød (“Vienna bread”), in exactly the same way as the French refer to croissants and their many relatives as “viennoiserie”.

Wienerbrød comes in many shapes and sizes, the most common being called a Kringle, and with many fillings. They all have a common base of yeasted multilayer pastry, made by the usual puff pastry method of repeated folding and rolling. The slight twist is that many Danish recipes don’t use pure butter in between layers of dough, preferring a butter/flour (or sometimes butter/sugar or butter/marzipan) mixture which they call a “remonce” filling. Remonce can be flavoured in all sorts of ways (I’ve used cinnamon) and the pastry as a whole can be filled with all sorts of things – I’ve chosen blueberry and walnut.

Translation can be confusing: Kringle is the Danish word for a pretzel shape, but I’ve seen lots of Kringle recipes suggesting that you use a simple rectangle or a braid. I wasn’t feeling confident about doing complicated curves in puff pastry, so I went for one each of the simple rectangle and the braid.

The basic dough recipe comes from scandikitchen.co.uk – I’ve gone slightly less rich.

The remonce filling

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 10g ground cinnamon
  • 25g flour
  1. Thoroughly mix the butter, cinnamon and flour. You can use your hands, a wooden spoon, a mixer or any implement you like, but make sure the butter doesn’t melt.
  2. On a large piece of baking paper (or possibly a sheet of cling film over a tray), spread out the remonce into a thin square, around 25cm x 25cm.
  3. Cover the square with another layer of baking paper or cling film and refrigerate until needed.

The dough

  • 150ml milk
  • 10g dried yeast
  • 50g sugar
  • 50g butter, softened
  • 350g strong white bread flour plus at least 50g for rolling
  • 8g salt
  • 1 egg
  1. Warm the milk to tepid, around 35-40℃. Add the yeast, stir and wait 10-15 minutes for it to become frothy.
  2. Weigh out your flour and mix in the salt.
  3. Pour the milk/yeast mixture, the sugar and butter into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix briefly on high speed until well combined and you’ve got rid of most of the lumps of butter.
  4. Add around half the flour and mix, then the egg and mix, then the remaining flour.
  5. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes.
  6. Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size and nicely springy – 1-2 hours depending on the usual bread-making factors like your kitchen temperature and the quality of the yeast.
  7. Flour your hands and a board; take the dough out of its bowl, knock it back and form it into a flattened ball.

The filling

  • 80g walnuts
  • 80g dark brown sugar
  1. Chop the walnuts finely (but not to a powder, you want some texture).
  2. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly.

Making the layers, and final assembly

  • 60-80g blueberries
  • 1 egg
  • 10ml or so milk
  • 60-80g blueberries
  • 1 egg
  • 10ml or so milk
  1. Roll the dough into a large square, around 35cm x 35cm
  2. Peel one lot of cling film/baking paper from the remonce.
  3. Place the square of remonce into the middle of the square of dough, positioning it diagonally so that the corners of the filling are a few centimetres inside the edges of the dough.
  4. Pick up each corner of the dough and fold it inwards, envelope style. When you’re done, there should be no filling visible.
  5. Roll the whole thing out into a rectangle, perhaps 30cm x 40cm.
  6. Fold the rectangle along its long side into three and refrigerate.
  7. After 15 minutes, flour the board again and roll out your pastry back into a 30cm x 40cm square. Fold the new rectangle along its long side into three and refrigerate again.
  8. You’ll want to turn your oven on around now – I went for 200℃ fan.
  9. Repeat this: you now have 27 layers of remonce in your dough. If you’ve done your job right, none of it will have leaked out.
  10. After your third 15 minute spell in the fridge, roll out your dough for the last time. Cut the dough into two, around 30cm x 20cm each.
  11. For the rectangle, spoon out the filling into the middle of the rectangle, leaving a gap of around 4cm all the way around the edge. Sprinkle blueberries over the filling. 
  12. Now fold the sides in, leaving a narrow gap in the middle (a few mm). Transfer to a baking tray, preferably one lined with a Silpat sheet.
  13. For the braided version, trim the pastry to the shape shown in the photo, and cut through the pastry so that you have around 8 separate tabs on each side. Place the rest of the filling and the blueberries in the central area.
  14. Fold in each tab, alternating sides so that you form the braid pattern. Tuck in the ends and transfer to your baking tray.
  15. Beat the egg and mix with the milk to form an egg wash: brush the pastries with the egg wash.
  16. Bake until deep golden in colour – perhaps 20-30 minutes.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.68: Tapalapa from the Gambia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.68: Tapalapa from the Gambia

To borrow Mr. Spock’s apocryphal turn of phrase: it’s baguette, Jim, but not as we know it. Tapalapa, from the Gambia, is shaped like baguette, but there the resemblance ends: where the centre of a baguette is soft, aerated and, let’s admit it, relatively tasteless (the flavour is all in the crust), tapalapa is a heavier bread with a dense crumb and a strong, distinctive taste…

…which means, dear reader, that this is a bread that splits the crowds. One of my family members loved it and one hated it. I’m in the middle: I really enjoyed tapalapa when eaten with the right things (hummous was ideal) but there a lot of European foods I wouldn’t eat it with – don’t under any circumstances try it for teatime bread and jam.

What makes tapalapa special is the combination of flours: a mixture of wheat flour, millet flour, cornflour and what’s called “cowpea flour” (in the UK, this translates as ground black-eyed beans). I used a recipe from the ever-reliable 196flavors.com – with the proviso that with my particular dried yeast on a decidedly chilly English summer’s day, the rise times were many times as long as Mike suggests in the recipe.

Millet flour and cowpea flour are hard to find in the UK, but it’s easy enough to get millet and black-eyed peas: a coffee grinder turns them into flour with no difficulty.

Yellow cornflour is available from specialist Mexican grocers. I’m going to guess that standard cornflour would have been fine.

  • 160 g bread flour
  • 70 g millet flour
  • 160 g yellow cornflour
  • 60 g cowpea flour
  • 12g dried yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 350ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
  1. Put the flours, yeast and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer and stir until blended. Add the water and mix until you have a smooth dough.
  2. Switch to the dough hook and knead for around 5-7 minutes.
  3. Form the dough into a ball, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size. The recipe suggests that this might take an hour: for whatever the reason, it took around three hours in my kitchen.
  4. Split the dough into two and form each half into a baguette shape. I happen to have a specially shaped tin for baguettes, but you can probably get away with just putting them on a greased baking sheet.
  5. Preheat oven to 220℃ fan
  6. Leave to rise for another hour or so.
  7. Slash a shallow gash down the middle of each stick.
  8. Bake until golden brown and dry on the inside: this should take around 15-20 minutes
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.67: Canadian butter tarts

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.67: Canadian butter tarts

Obviously (this is the 21st century, after all), a lot of the choice of what to bake for a given country starts with Google. For Canada, the result really wasn’t in doubt: everything on the Internet seems to point at the butter tart as the iconic Canadian baked food.

There are lots of variations on the butter tart, but here are some givens that apply to the majority of the recipes:

  1. They are small single-portion tartlets
  2. The tart shell is fairly standard shortcrust, perhaps sweetened but not excessively so
  3. The basic filling is made of butter, eggs and sugar
  4. Although tastes vary as to how runny the filling should be, you never bake the filling such that it’s completely set: you want to end up somewhere on the scale between  runny and squidgy.

The basic filling, therefore, ends up not a million miles away from an English treacle tart. However, lots of people add various extras, as you can see from foodnetwork.ca: I’ve gone for walnut and maple syrup, starting from their maple pecan version. Clearly, Canadians have a serious sweet tooth, because all the recipes I’ve found have been big sugar hits. I’ve gone for slightly more nuts and slightly less sugar.

The quantities here make 12 small tarts: you’ll probably be using a 12 slot muffin tin.

The pastry

  • 300g plain flour (OO grade if you can)
  • 25g sugar
  • 5g salt
  • 200g butter
  • 90ml water
  • 15ml lemon juice (around half a lemon)
  1. Put the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer.
  2. Take the butter out of your fridge and cut into small cubes (perhaps 1cm).
  3. Add the butter to the flour mix and mix with the standard beater on the lowest setting until the largest lumps of butter are gone.
  4. Add the water and lemon juice and beat until well combined.
  5. Form the dough into two approximately equal portions, shape into discs, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour (I did 90 minutes).
  6. Grease your muffin tin.
  7. Roll out your pastry thinly and cut out a circle around 12cm in diameter – you’ll be trying to get six tartlets out of each of your two balls of dough. Use the cutting tool of your choice: mine was an inverted fluted tartlet tin which happened to be the right size.
  8. Press your circle of pastry into one of the muffin shapes, allowing the edges to sit above the level of the tin. The key here is to press the pastry down into the tin so that there isn’t any air trapped, and to try to stop the filling from leaking out over the sides.
  9. Repeat for the other eleven tarts.
  10. Put the tarts into the fridge until you’ve made the filling.

Filling and assembling the tarts

  • 100g walnuts or pecans
  • 2 eggs
  • 170g maple syrup
  • 15ml lemon juice (around half a lemon)
  • 2g salt
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • 100g butter
  • 200g sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
  2. Place walnuts in a roasting tray and toast until fragrant but not burnt, around 5-10 minutes. Leave to cool.
  3. Put eggs, maple syrup, lemon juice, salt and vanilla into the bowl of your stand mixer and whisk briefly with a balloon whisk at top speed.
  4. Put butter and sugar into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until the two elements have completely combined and the mixture has started frothing.
  5. Turn the mixer back up to full speed, and gradually drizzle the hot filling into the mixture, whisking continuously.
  6. Divide the chopped walnuts into your twelve tartlets.
  7. Pour the filling into the twelve tartlets.
  8. Bake for 10 minutes, the reduce the temperature to 175℃ fan, then bake for another 15 minutes, then leave to cool.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.66: Filipino Empanadas

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.66: Filipino Empanadas

At the end of the day, there are only so many basic ways in which you can wrap a piece of dough around a filling, so it’s unsurprising that lots of different cultures have their equivalent of a filled turnover. The Spanish version, which is ubiquitous in Spain and Latin America, is the Empanada. The verb empañar just means to wrap or cover and in no way specifies what the thing is that you’re covering: it can be sweet or savoury, meaty, cheesy or veggie, sticky or chunky.

I could have picked any Latin country for this bake, but I’ve gone East to the Philippines, where they’re extremely fond of their empanadas. What follows is an amalgam of several Filipino recipes: feel free to choose minced pork or shredded chicken in place of the beef, use butter or vegetable shortening in place of the lard and/or play whatever games you fancy with the flavourings: I’ve kept things to a mild, faintly Far Eastern kind of feel.

Empanadas can be baked or deep fried. I baked mine, although I deep fried two of them for comparison. Both were nice: I preferred the deep fried version for flavour, but the baked one had a nice flaky texture that gets lost in deep frier. Eat a couple of them with some salad for a light supper, or they make a fantastic savoury snack dish.

The filling

All the weights given here are net weights after peeling. Having said which, the exact amounts really aren’t critical: there’s no point in following them slavishly and it’s far more important that you taste the filling and get it seasoned the way you want.

The filling is best made well in advance – you want it completely cold when you actually start assembling the empanadas.

  • Sunflower or other neutral oil for frying
  • 180g onion (around one medium to large onion)
  • 12g ginger
  • 10g garlic
  • 500g minced beef
  • 180g carrots (two medium to large carrots)
  • 1 tbs dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbs oyster sauce
  • Sichuan peppercorns to taste (perhaps a teaspoon) – substitute with black pepper, paprika etc if you prefer
  • 150g frozen peas
  • 35g raisins: these are optional. Most Filipino recipes usually include them because they like a touch of sweetness, but others hate the idea.
  • Chili paste to taste (I used around a tablespoon of the stuff you get in jars from Chinese supermarkets – this is very much optional but I liked the extra slight kick)
  1. Chop the onion, garlic, ginger and carrots, keeping them separate.
  2. Pound the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar.
  3. Heat oil and fry the onions on medium heat until transparent.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for another minute or two.
  5. Add the minced beef and keep stir-frying until you can’t obviously see any pinkness.
  6. Add the carrots and stir fry for another five minutes or so.
  7. Add the soy and oyster sauces and the Sichuan peppercorns, and stir some more.
  8. Add frozen peas and raisins (if using), salt and Sichuan peppercorns, and cook the sauce until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  9. Remove from the heat and cool thoroughly. Leave the filling uncovered for the first hour or so to ensure that surplus water evaporates: a wet filling results in the dreaded soggy bottom!

The dough

The quantities here made about 670g of pastry, so enough for 16 empanadas using 40g each, with a tiny bit to spare.

  • 400g plain flour (if possible, use OO grade flour)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 100g lard (keep chilled until use)
  • 125ml water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  1. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir until evenly mixed. (Some recipes add sugar to the dough – I really didn’t like that idea).
  2. Cut the lard into very small cubes, tip them into the flour mix and work with your fingers until there are no big lumps of lard remaining and most of the flour has been absorbed.
  3. Beat together the egg, vinegar and water and add to your flour mixture. Mix in until you have a smooth dough.
  4. Knead the dough for five minutes or so until it is elastic and springs back when you press a dent into it with your thumb.
  5. Form into a ball, cover and leave in the fridge to rest for 20-30 minutes.

Assembly and baking

  • More flour for dusting – you’ll need a surprisingly large amount
  • 1 egg for the wash
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan (if deep frying, 180℃ is also a good temperature for your oil).
  2. Cover a baking tray with a Silpat sheet if you have one, or baking paper if you don’t.
  3. Flour your pastry board.
  4.  Divide your dough into 16 balls of around 40g each (I actually did four at a time, leaving the rest of the dough in the bowl, covered to stop it drying out).
  5. Roll out a ball of dough into as good a circle as you can manage, perhaps 10-12cm in diameter.
  6. Spoon a ball of filling into the middle of your circle. I used about two dessertspoonfuls of filling per empanada.
  7. Brush the circle of dough around the outside of your filling with water: that’s to help the edges stick together when you seal the parcel.
  8. Pick up two opposite edges of the circle and fold them together; then squeeze together all the way round the semicircle. You want to get all the air out and distribute the filling nicely while being sure that the dough doesn’t tear and the filling doesn’t leak out of the edge.
  9. Fold an end of your semi-circle inwards (about 5mm or so), then repeat until you have the characteristic braided pattern around the edge of your semi-circle. Personally, I’m incredibly messy at this, so you’re best not to look at my photos too closely and look at the Instagram video pointed to by this recipe.
  10. Put the empanada on your baking sheet, and repeat for the next fifteen.
  11. Beat the egg with a bit of water and brush the pastries with the resulting wash (tip: if you don’t want to waste the leftover egg wash, which will be most of the egg, it makes a perfectly nice small omelette).
  12. Bake for around 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.65: Cornulete (or Rugelach) from Romania

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.65: Cornulete (or Rugelach) from Romania

My Romanian friend gave me a choice of two baked items as being typical of her country:  cozonak (aka kozunak, an Easter bread) and cornulete. Since I’ve already done kozunak, under the banner of neighbouring Bulgaria, cornulete were the ones to go for. The dough is an unusual one, like a shortbread biscuit dough but with no sugar and lots of sour cream, whereas the construction is more common: cut your pastry into triangles, put in a dollop of your chosen filling and roll the whole thing up the way you would roll up a croissant.

It makes for attractive little pastries that are particularly nice if what you’re looking for is something tasty and flaky but not overly sweet.

By the way, you’ll see another name for these pastries, Rugelach, which I think is a Yiddish name: these and similar items are common in Eastern European Jewish communities.

The recipe I started from was this one, in Romanian and requiring the help of translation software. The desired filling is a thing called magiun, which is a jam made from plums in season and – crucially – little or no added sugar. It’s the wrong season for plums here, so I made do with what I could find, which was good quality apricot jam.

The dough

  • 250 g plain flour
  • 150g sour cream
  • 2 yolks
  • 150 g butter
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • Vanilla essence to taste

Take the butter out of your fridge and cut it into small cubes.

  1. Put everything into the bowl of your food processor or stand mixer and process until fully blended. However, don’t overmix the dough – apparently, it will go tough.
  2. Shape the dough into a flattened disc, wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge for at least an hour or two. Due to a series of unfortunate events, mine ended up being left overnight, which was just fine.

Filling and baking

  • Plum or apricot jam – you’ll use 100g-200g worth
  • 16 walnut pieces (between 2-4 whole walnuts)

What happens next depends on what size you want your cornulete to be. The original Romanian recipe expects you to divide the dough into four, which is going to get you some very small cornulete unless you’re incredibly good at rolling the dough very thin. I’m hopeless at rolling dough into exact circles, so I went for the simpler approach of just rolling the whole lot into a singe circle. You choose…

  1. Preheat oven to 170℃ fan.
  2. Prepare a baking tray lined with a Silpat sheet (if you have one) or baking paper.
  3. Roll your circle of dough as flat as you can manage. Mine rolled to about 30cm diameter. Trim it to a circle: as you can see from the photos, I used an inverted tart tin to do this.
  4. Cut the circle into segments (they join at the middle of the circle, so you’re basically making triangles. I did 16 segments, using a steel bread scraper; several recipes recommend using a pizza cutter.
  5. Separate out a triangle and put a dollop of jam onto its thick end. Place a walnut piece on top of the dollop of jam.
  6. Starting from the thick end, roll up the pastry triangle into the traditional croissant shape. Transfer to the baking sheet.
  7. Repeat for the remaining cornulete.
  8.  Bake for around 15 minutes until golden but not dried out or tough.
  9. Leave to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating.