Category: Food

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.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.64: Tacos al pastor from Mexico

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.64: Tacos al pastor from Mexico

Mexicans are serious about corn. There are dozens – possibly hundreds – of varieties in a blaze of different colours. Elote (“Mexican street corn”) is massively popular everywhere in Mexico and way beyond its borders, but perhaps the most important thing that Mexicans do with corn is to make it into tortillas, and the list of things you can make with a corn tortilla is nearly infinite.

You don’t really bake a tortilla as such: rather, you dry-cook it in a ceramic pan called a comal. But I’ll stretch a point to include it in this series, because the archetypal Mexican dough-based food is the tortilla and the archetypal thing you can do with a tortilla is to turn it into tacos. As to what you put on/in your taco, Mexican restauranteur and chef Gabriela Cámara asserts that you can really put anything you like. Having watched a bunch of her videos on masterclass.com (it’s a great site, albeit not cheap), I’ve had a go at a considerably simplified version of her recipe for a Mexico City street dish called tacos al pastor.

Before moving on to the fillings, let’s consider the tortillas. We’re making and cooking tortillas de maíz (corn tortillas). To do this, you need to start with the flour, which Mexicans call the masa. Making your own masa is non-trivial: you have to start with a process called nixtamalisation – soaking the corn kernels in lime before grinding them. I wimped out of this, not least because I wouldn’t have expected to be able to find the right quality dried corn. Fortunately, there’s good quality masa available from Mexican online grocers – I used Harina PAN. It comes in two colours – white and yellow: so far, I’ve only tried the white, but I have a packet of yellow which I’ll try some time.

To get your tortillas properly thin and absolutely evenly flat, you should really use a tortilla press – which I don’t have, or at least not yet. To cook them traditionally, you should really use a comal, which I don’t have either. So I’ve had to improvise. To flatten the tortillas, I’ve put a ball of dough between sheets of plastic (cling film doesn’t work, according to Cámara) and pressed it between a heavy wooden chopping board and the butcher’s block on my kitchen worktop. I can get them down to about 3mm thickness that way, and I’ve then stretched them a bit more with a rolling pin. For most people, the likely replacement for a comal will be a skillet: I happen to have a ceramic pan which was bought as a Tarte Tatin dish which seems to do the job fine – since a comal is a clay item, I figure that this was a close equivalent.

After that lengthy preamble, it turns out that making tacos is really quite easy. In the selection of side dishes/fillings, I particularly like the salsa verde. The quantities here served six people.

You’ll most probably need to get some of the ingredients from a specialist Mexican store: those will be the masa, the chipotle peppers, the tomatillos and the refried beans (and possibly the jalapeño peppers).

Marinating the pork (start this the day before)

  • 900g pork fillet/tenderloin (probably two fillets)
  • 160g chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tomatoes
  1. Chop the pork fillet into bite side pieces (perhaps 1.5cm cubes) and put them into a bowl. Any bigger and it’s going to be even harder than usual to get a taco with any form of structural integrity.
  2. Blitz the tomatoes and add them to the bowl with the orange juice and the chipotle peppers.
  3. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight.

The Salsa Verde Cruda

  • 767g can tomatillos
  • 20g onion
  • 30g coriander leaves
  • 30g lettuce leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 avocado (around 150g)
  • Green chilies to taste – I used two small medium heat finger chilies
  • Salt to taste

Put everything into your food processor and blitz until you have a very smooth paste. Add water as necessary to get the texture right – you want something more like whipped cream than like toothpaste. Adjust the amounts of salt and chili until you like the taste.

The onion salsa

  • 600g onions
  • 10g dried oregano
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 40g olive oil
  • Chilies to taste – I used three fresh jalapeño peppers, but you can use habanero or Scotch bonnet chilies if you want to up the firepower. (If you’re doing that, use gloves).
  1. Halve the onions lengthways and slice thinly.
  2. Slice the chilies.
  3. Mix the other items, then put the onions and chilies into the mixture to marinade. Make sure that you turn them many times to ensure that everything is coated in the marinade.

The pineapple

  • 1 pineapple
  • 30g butter
  • salt to taste
  1. Peel the pineapple and remove the eyes.
  2. Cut the pineapple into quarters and remove the toughest part of the inside stem. Cut each quarter into small bite-sized chunks.
  3. Heat butter in a skillet, add the pineapple and give it a generous sprinkling of salt.
  4. Fry, turning all the pieces occasionally, until nicely caramelised on all sides.

Cooking the pork

  1. Heat a griddle or skillet. Depending on its size, you will probably need to do the pork in two or three batches.
  2. Transfer pieces of pork from the bowl to the skillet, shaking off most of the marinade. You can also transfer some of the whole chipotle peppers.
  3. Cook the pork, turning occasionally. Make sure it’s cooked through, but try not to dry it out such that it becomes tough.
  4. Optionally, pour the remaining marinade into your skillet, cook for a few minutes to reduce and pour it over the pork.
  5. Keep the meat warm while you make your tortillas.

Making the tacos

The quantities here are for two 60g tacos each, which worked out about right for us. It’s a simple one-to-one ratio of masa to water, so multiply by whatever you want.

  • 360g masa harina (see above)
  • 360ml water
  1. Start heating your comal (or skillet or improvised substitute) on your hob – basically, you want it as hot as you can get.
  2. Put the masa harina and water into a bowl and mix until you have an even dough.
  3. Divide the dough into balls (in this case, 12 of them) and cover the bowl with a tea towel to stop the dough drying out while you make the tortillas.
  4. Place a ball of dough between two sheets of plastic (a re-used plastic bag works fine) into your tortilla press – whether purpose-built or improvised – and flatten the ball of dough to a disc. Finish it off with a rolling pin if you have to. Cámara says the ideal tortilla is about 3mm thick, but I felt that was a bit thick and aimed for 2mm.
  5. Peel the tortilla off the plastic and place it on the hot comal. Cook for a minute or two on each side – the tortilla should be thoroughly dried out and if you taste a piece, there should be no residual taste of raw flour.
  6. Repeat for all the tortillas, keeping them warm and covered.

Serving

To repeat what Cámara says, you can put anything into a taco. As well as the pork, pineapple, salsa verde and onion salsa, I went for sweetcorn, refried beans (proper ones from the Mexican grocery, as opposed to the distinctly indifferent supermarket-bought stuff) and some green salad.  But truly, use whatever you feel like.

The idea is to put lots of items of filling into your taco and fold it into a U shape, in the hope that it will stay in one piece as you lift it to your mouth and take bites out of it. However, no-one I know has ever succeeded in doing this with any taco – home made or commercially bought: structural integrity just isn’t part of the programme. So I predict that you will suffer an epic failure and the collapse of your taco. But that’s all part of the fun – just remember to lean forward so it happens on top of your plate!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.63: Pistachio Baklava from Turkey

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.63: Pistachio Baklava from Turkey

As we get close to 80% of the way round the world on this journey, I have to admit, dear reader, that some of the bakes have been getting a bit on the obscure side (and there are more of those to come). Baklava, however, isn’t one of those: the nut-filled, syrup-infused flaky pastries feature on the dessert menu of just about every Turkish, Greek, Persian or Middle Eastern restaurant on the planet, not to mention innumerable cafés.

Although scholars point at recipes for vaguely baklava-like desserts going all the way back to ancient Greece, the dish as we know it today probably showed up in the kitchens of the Ottoman Empire. So essential is the dish to Turks today that during Ramadan in 2020 – in the eye of the storm of the Covid-19 pandemic – baklava bakers were granted specific permission to stay open on the grounds that this was an essential commodity (if you don’t believe me, check out the New York Times article).

 There are many variations as to the choice of nuts, the make-up of the syrup and the way the final product is shaped, but roughly, it comes to this: the Greek version is likely to be filled with walnuts and soaked in a honey based syrup, whereas the Turkish version is more likely to use pistachios with a lemon-infused sugar syrup. That’s a very broad brush distinction – you’ll find plenty of exceptions, mixtures and different ideas.

I’m going to assume that in common with 99.99% of home cooks on the planet, or at least outside the Middle East, you have no intention of making your own filo pastry. On that basis,  making your own baklava is relatively straightforward, albeit time-consuming – it depends on how quick you are at laying out sheets of filo and brushing melted butter over them, which you’re going to be doing a lot of. I ended up with a kind of amalgam of recipes from The Spruce Eats, The Mediterranean Dish and Cleobuttera. The key thing to remember is to pour cold syrup over the hot baklava and then leave it to soak for a substantial amount of time.

The syrup

  • 450g sugar
  • 750ml water (see note below about quantities)
  • Juice of ½ lemon (around 30ml)
  • Optional: 10g liquid glucose, which is supposed to help prevent your syrup from crystallising
  • Optional: other flavourings such as orange blossom water, orange extract or cloves – I didn’t use any
  1. Put all items into a small saucepan and mix
  2. Bring to the boil and simmer until you have a thick syrup, around 104℃
  3. Take the saucepan off the heat

The quantities in this recipe seems to be set so that you leave the syrup on for the whole time you’re making the baklava, reaching the right stickiness around the time you finish. This kind of worked, but next time, I think I’ll use a third of the amount of water and just get it done in adavance, with a fraction of the time boiling down.

The main thing

Ideally, you want a baking dish the same size as your filo sheets, at least 2.5 cm deep.. Mine was 37 cm x 27 cm, which was around 3 cm too narrow, so I had to trim down the filo. A word of warning, though: you will be cutting the baklava in the dish before it goes into the oven and, most likely, again when it is baked. This will probably gash any non-stick coating on your dish (it did mine). You can probably help matters by lining the tray with a single piece of baking paper so that you can lift the whole lot out after baking, which at least means you’ll only wreck it once rather than twice. Alternatively, a Pyrex dish might be a better choice.

The diamond shape I used is pretty traditional, but you can, of course, try many different ideas: baklava is often sold in squares or rectangles.

The quantities assume that your filo comes in 250g packs, each of which has around 15 sheets. This lets you make three layers of 10 sheets each. Adjust the number of sheets accordingly: you want to use around ⅔ of a pack for each layer. Some recipes, by the way, just use two layers of filo with one layer of nuts – that’s fine too.

Next warning: filo dries out easily. Keep it covered with a tea towel at all times other than the minimum few seconds you need to peel a sheet off the block.

  • 400g shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 40g sugar
  • 250g ghee (use clarified butter if you prefer or if you can’t get ghee)
  • 500g filo pastry (fresh or frozen)
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
  2. Blitz the pistachios in a food processor until they are mostly powdered but still have a coarse texture with lots of small pieces.
  3. Transfer to a small bowl, add the sugar and mix. Reserve 50g for garnish after the baklava is baked.
  4. Melt the ghee.
  5. Spread your baking dish with ghee, and scatter a thin layer of pistachios.
  6. Now work quickly. Peel a layer of filo off your block and place it on your dish. Cover the block with a tea towel. Spread the layer with ghee. Repeat around 10 times (see note above).
  7. Spread half the pistachio sugar mix evenly over the dish. You may need to shake the dish to get it even.
  8. Repeat steps 6 and 7.
  9. Repeat step 6 for a third time to get your top layer of filo.
  10. Brush the top of your pastry with the remaining ghee. If there isn’t enough for a generous amount, melt some more: you don’t want dry filo at the top.
  11. Cut the baklava into a diamond pattern – around 5 strips along the shorter side and around 8 along the longer side. This gets you 40 generously sized baklava – you can go smaller if you want.
  12. If your syrup is still boiling, wait until it’s reached the right stickiness and you’ve taken it off the heat.
  13. Bake until golden brown, around 40 minutes.
  14. Remove the dish from the oven and place it on a rack. Pour the syrup evenly over the whole dish, then sprinkle evenly with the reserved pistachio mix. 
  15. Cover with foil (otherwise, you’ve just created the world’s biggest attraction for the local insect life) and leave to cool.
  16. When it’s cool enough, put it in the fridge and leave for at least 8 hours (or overnight). Freshly made baklava just doesn’t have the right consistency (we checked this).
  17. Re-cut into its diamond shapes and serve.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.62: Medovik – Ukranian honey cake

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.62: Medovik – Ukranian honey cake

 Many countries have their own versions of a cake made of a large number of very thin layers: the Hungarian Dobos torte is probably the most famous, the Czechs have Marlenka (originally from Armenia), the Croatians have Mađarica, there are various Asian versions like the Indonesian kek lapis. The Ukranians go for a multilayered honey cake called Medovik (which is originally Russian and popular in much of Eastern Europe).

Medovik consists of alternating layers of cake and a cream filling. Recipes for the cake are fairly consistent: they come out closer to a biscuit or pastry than to a normal sponge cake. Recipes for the filling vary more: the base ingredient can be sour cream or whipped ordinary cream or an egg custard.

There are two keys to Medovik, one of which is easy and one of which is decidedly not so. The easy part is to remember, when you’ve made your layers, to give the cake a long time in the refrigerator during which each wet cream layer soaks into the relatively hard biscuit layer below it, which is what results in a delightfully spongy feel to the whole assembly. The hard part is rolling the cake dough out as thinly and evenly as possible. You need to keep your rolling pin constantly floured to stop it lifting the dough, you need a careful touch to maintain evenness and you need to do your best to create a circle rather than the heart shape that I always end up with when I’m not concentrating. Picking up a finished circle is an impossibility, so I rolled my dough directly onto a silicone sheet: I suspect that it might be easier if I put a layer of cling film on top before rolling, but I didn’t try this.

I used the batter and the basic technique from a recipe on Ukrainian website ukrainefood.info, and used a simple sour cream and condensed milk filling as recommended by Smitten Kitchen (which may or may not change the cake’s name to smetannik – “sour cream cake” rather than “honey cake”).

Most of the recipes I’ve seen expect you to frost the sides of the cake in order to produce a beautiful round cylinder. I can’t see the point of doing this, so I made less filling and just put it between layers and on the top of the whole cake. I still had plenty to spare.

The cake layers

  • 60g honey
  • 50g butter
  • 200g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 350g flour, plus plenty more for rolling
  • 1 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  1. Improvise a double boiler by using a metal bowl over a pan of boiling water.
  2. Put the honey, butter and sugar into the double boiler. Cook it until smooth, stirring continuously.
  3. Add the bicarbonate of soda and vanilla, and cook for another minute.
  4. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for around 4 minutes. You are about to add eggs and you don’t want them to be scrambled.
  5. Beat two eggs in a jug with a spout. Add the beaten egg very slowly to the mixture, continuing to beat as you go.
  6. Add the flour and stir until mixed thoroughly.
  7. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan.
  8. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with cling film, and place in a freezer for around 15 minutes.
  9. Remove the dough from the freezer, cut into 8 equal pieces (make the weights as even as you can, they should be around 90g each). Form each piece into a ball, cover with cling film and replace in the freezer for another 5-10 minutes.
  10. Have a pile of flour ready to flour your rolling pin.
  11. Remove the dough from the freezer. Place a ball of dough out on a silicone baking sheet and roll it out until it is larger than a 20cm circle. The dough will be very thin, so you really need to take care that the rolling process doesn’t cause it to tear – although you can patch it and re-roll if you have to.
  12.  Cut out the circle and set aside the offcuts from around the edge (the best way of doing this is to use the base of a springform tin as a template).
  13. If you have two silicone sheets, do another one.
  14. Place the sheet(s) in your oven and bake for around 5 minutes until golden.
  15. Cool on a rack. When sufficiently cool, place in a pile.
  16. Repeat until all 8 sheets are done. Roll out the offcuts of pastry and bake them alongside your last cake layer (or couple of cake layers, if you have a lot). You may want to put the unused balls of dough back in the freezer occasionally to keep them cool during the process.

The filling

  • 600ml sour cream
  • 400g condensed milk
  1. Whisk the sour cream and condensed milk together until smooth.

Final assembly

  1. Cut a circle of baking paper somewhat larger than your cake – perhaps 24cm in diameter. Place it on your cake plate, and dab a small amount of filling in the middle.
  2. Place a cake layer in the middle, then spread it thoroughly with frosting. This will dribble down the sides – that’s why you made the paper larger than the cake.
  3. Repeat until all the layers are done.
  4. Blitz the offcut pastry to crumbs (I didn’t have enough, so I supplemented mine with ordinary biscuits). Scatter crumbs over the top of the cake.
  5. Cover (I have a plastic cake plate with a matching cylindrical cover, which was ideal) and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
  6. Around 30 minutes before serving, take the cake out of the refrigerator and tidy up the edges, cutting the baking paper to the size of the cake and removing the surplus frosting which has dribbled down.
  7. Serve with coffee. OK, the coffee isn’t technically essential, just highly desirable.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.61: Gyepi-manju – bean-paste filled cookies from Korea

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.61: Gyepi-manju – bean-paste filled cookies from Korea

Like most of East Asia, Korea doesn’t really have a long-standing baking tradition – it’s to do with the relative scarcity of slow-burning fuel, which means that cooking is more likely to be done fast, at high temperature in a wok. However, Western baking has found its way to Korea (by way of Japan, in this case), where it has adopted a decidedly Korean accent. If you visit Seoul, I can vouch for the fact that their bakeries and patisseries are extremely popular and of super-high quality – even a relatively mundane chain bakery in a Seoul subway seems capable of turning out mouth-watering croissants.

In the case of gyepi-manju, the cookies that I’ve made here, the Asian accent comes in the form of sweetened bean paste and the specifically Korean accent is their love of sesame seeds. They’re pleasant, not over-sweetened cookies: some Westerners will want to add more sugar.

I started with a recipe from New-York based Korean cook Maangchi. While this isn’t the hardest bake in the world, there’s definitely room for error – and I made a few, which are visible in the photos. The first of these: Maangchi expects you to take the skins off your broad beans *before* boiling them, which I forgot to do. Taking them off afterwards is fine, but you need a much longer boil. The second is that I ran out of sesame seeds, so I substituted some decidedly un-Korean poppy seeds in my last few gyepi-manju (they were fine).

As usual, I’ve gone for metric quantities and ingredient names from the UK. I’ve shown the way I did the beans, since it worked fine. Go to the original if you prefer.

The bean paste

  • 200g butter beans
  • 100g sugar (1 cup)
  • A pinch of salt – perhaps 1g
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  1. Put the butter beans in a bowl and cover with a lot of cold water: soak overnight.
  2. Transfer the beans to a saucepan, cover in water and boil until soft, skimming off the worst of the scum that will accumulate at the top.
  3. Drain the beans and leave until cool enough to handle.
  4. Remove the tough outer skin of the beans and discard, placing the peeled beans in the bowl of food processor.
  5. Add sugar, salt and vanilla, and process until very smooth (this takes longer than you expect).
  6. Put into a covered bowl and refrigerate while you make the dough.

The dough

  • 15 g butter
  • 80g condensed milk
  • 130g flour
  • 1 egg
  • 5g baking powder
  • 2g salt
  • Vanilla extract to taste
  1. Melt the butter and pour into a bowl
  2. Add the condensed milk and stir
  3. Add egg, baking powder, salt and vanilla and stir
  4. Add the flour and mix until you have a smooth dough
  5. Cover in cling film (or put in a sealed bowl) and leave to rest for at least an hour – I actually ended up doing this overnight, which was fine.

Final assembly and baking

  • Generous amounts of sesame seeds (black, white or half and half) – perhaps 1-2 tablespoons
  • 1 egg yolk
  • flour for rolling
  • Generous amounts of ground cinnamon – perhaps 1-2 tablespoons
  1. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  2. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until fragrant. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg yolk in a small bowl. Set aside.
  4. Flour your board
  5. Separate the bean paste into two halves. Separate the dough into two halves.
  6. Form a half of the bean paste into a ball.
  7. Roll half of the dough into a circle big enough to be wrapped around the ball.
  8. Roll your assembled ball into a log.
  9. Repeat for the second half of the bean paste and dough.
  10. Spread cinnamon powder over a space of your board that’s been cleared of flour.
  11. Brush water over a log of dough and roll it in the cinnamon so that it’s thoroughly coated. Keep adding cinnamon if you have to – it’s hard to overdo. Repeat for the second log.
  12. Cut your log into individual cookies (I made 12 each for a total of 24). Array them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper (or, better still, a Silpat sheet).
  13. Brush the tops of the cookies with beaten egg, and scatter generous amounts of sesame over them.
  14. Bake for around 20 minutes until golden brown. Take out and leave to cool.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.60: Khobzet borgden – Tunisian orange cake

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.60: Khobzet borgden – Tunisian orange cake

Tunisia grows a lot of oranges. Over 550,000 tonnes, according to The Guardian, in what was admittedly a freak year – apparently, 200-400,000 is more normal. Anyway, you have to do something with all that fruit, and one of things the Tunisians do is to make orange cake – or “Khobzet borgden”, as it’s called in Arabic.

If you look up English language recipes for Tunisian Orange Cake, you tend to get something different, often involving stale breadcrumbs and a lot of ground almonds. These are also very good – my wife has been making her mother’s orange almond cake recipe for years and it’s a winner – but I can’t find any evidence that they’re authentically Tunisian: the closest I got was a recipe where the cake was decorated with flaked almonds.

So I’ve gone for one of the many recipes for Khobzet borgden on Tunisian websites, generally in French. Variations include choice of fat (butter / olive oil / vegetable oil) and how to treat your oranges: the most extreme one I’ve seen involved blitzing whole oranges – skin, pips and all – and adding the resulting purée to your cake mix. Just about all the recipes involve drizzling your finished cake with an orange syrup. I’ve started with one from tunisienumerique.com (translation: digital Tunisia), which uses oil (I chose olive – it doesn’t specify) and lots of orange zest as well as decorating the top of the cake with slices of orange.

A couple of notes on my adaptation: (1) the suggested baking time of 20-25 minutes wasn’t even close. Either their oven or their baking tin is very different from mine. (2) my cake domed hugely in the middle. The original recipe specifies one sachet of baking powder, and I have no idea how much you get in a Tunisian baking powder sachet. So I went with around 12g, which may have been a bit excessive.

  • 300g plain flour
  • 12g baking powder
  • 3 oranges
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 100g olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
  2. Grease with butter a 20cm springform tin (or other cake tin of similar size).
  3. Sift your flour and baking powder into a bowl.
  4. Zest at least two of the oranges (all three if you really want a bitter orange flavour).
  5. Slice one of the zested oranges into rounds (I needed five rounds to fit onto my 20cm springform tin). Squeeze the juice out of the rest of this orange and the other two: you should get around 200ml. If the yield is substantially less, you might want to add some orange juice from elsewhere (or from a fourth orange if you have one).
  6. Put the eggs and 100g of granulated sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer and mix at high speed until well blended.
  7. Add the orange zest and 100g of the orange juice and mix until well blended.
  8. Add the oil and mix until well blended.
  9. Add the flour and baking powder and mix until you have a smooth batter.
  10. Pour the batter into your tin. Arrange the orange slices over the top, pressing each slightly in so that it’s level with the batter.
  11. Put your tin into the oven and bake for around 30-35 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  12. Meanwhile, make a syrup: put your remaining 50g of sugar and 100ml (approximately) of orange juice into a saucepan, bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
  13.  Cook until the syrup is thick (if you’re using a sugar thermometer, aim for around 105℃).
  14. When the cake is done, leave it to cool for a couple of minutes, then drizzle the syrup you should try to get the rest absorbed into the cake.
  15. Take off the outside of the springform tin and then cool the cake on a rack.

Tunisians would accompany this with black coffee. Personally, I’d go for both black coffee and a scoop of pistachio ice cream. But the choice is yours…