Tag: Desserts

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.76 – Panettone from Italy

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.76 – Panettone from Italy

Christmas food in Italy is a whole lot more varied than in England, with all manner of different meats, fish, pasta dishes, cakes and biscuits (mercifully, the Italians don’t share our obsession with roast turkey). But there’s one thing that you’ll see at Christmas all over Italy: the cylindrical, sweetened, enriched bread called “Panettone” – the “big loaf”. Whenever I’ve been to a café in Italy at Christmas time, usually in or near Milan, the base of modern, industrial scale panettone manufacture and said to be its city of origin, piles of panettone pieces have been arrayed on the bar for everyone to nibble with their coffee. The aroma of citrus and vanilla in a bread of extreme fluffiness is unbeatable.

There are zillions of recipes, from the traditional candied fruit to those with more outlandish fillings: chocolate, hazelnut puree, tangerine paste, marrons glacés and so on. But there are a few things that distinguish a panettone from other breads/cakes of its type:

  • The dough is sweetened and enriched with egg yolks and butter, giving an overall flavour profile something like a brioche. But where you would try to get a brioche smooth and even in crumb, a panettone should be as aerated as you can make it: fluffiness is mandatory and large air pockets are completely acceptable.
  • The loaf is baked in a cylindrical case or tin. Originally, the chances are that you’d have reused one of the large tins in which canned goods were sold, but today, you are more likely to go for a single-use paper case made specially for the purpose: these are inexpensive and readily available both in the UK and the US.
  • To prevent your loaf collapsing down the moment you take it out of the oven – the fate of most heavily aerated breads and cakes – a panettone is cooled upside down: instead of collapsing, it gains extra height and fluffiness.

Making panettone turns out to be something of a project: it’s going to take you most of a day as an absolute minimum, with some recipes calling for multiple resting and proving stages taking several days, in order to develop the flavour to its maximum. I went for an intermediate, starting with a sourdough “sponge” at 6pm on day 1 and getting the panettone out of the oven around 24 hours later, to be cooled and ready for breakfast the next morning.

I ended up taking bits and pieces from several different recipes: Giallo Zaferrano, Great Italian Chefs, BBC Good Food. But rather than slavishly following a set of quantities and times, I relied more on getting the dough to look right at each stage, with my main reference being this video from chefsteps.com. You’ll see from the photos that my texture came out perfectly – I couldn’t have asked for better. However, my flavours beed adjusting for next time: I used a bit too much salt and not enough sugar and I was definitely too conservative about how much candied fruit to add. I’ve adjusted the quantities below to what I think I should have used (and will try for next Christmas).

Confession time: I was going by look and feel and not measuring all the quantities as accurately as usual. So if you’re going to try this, use your judgment.

Day 1, around 6pm: the sourdough sponge, part 1

  • 30g sourdough starter
  • 170g strong white flour
  • 130ml water
  1. Mix thoroughly the sourdough starter with 30g of the flour and 60ml of the water. Leave to ferment for around three hours.
  2. Add the rest of the flour and water, mix thoroughly then leave to ferment overnight.

Day 2, around 8am: the sourdough sponge, part 2

  • 100g strong white flour
  • 4g dried yeast
  • 100g yoghurt (any active yoghourt should do, buttermilk or kefir might be better)
  1. Add all the ingredients to your sponge from the previous day, mix thoroughly and leave to rest until everything is bubbling nicely. This will depend on the ambient temperature: I left mine for around two hours in a place near my boiler which is around 30℃.

Day 2 mid-morning: make the dough

  • 400g flour (very approximate, do by feel of the dough)
  • 8 egg yolks, at room temperature (when you separate the eggs, keep a small amount of the white – you’ll use it for the glaze.
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 140g butter, at room temperature
  • zest of one orange
  • zest of one lemon
  • seeds scraped from one vanilla pod
  • 5g salt
  • 120g lemon peel
  • 120g sultanas
  1. If it didn’t start there, put your sponge into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add flour and egg yolks and knead using the dough hook for five minutes. Leave half an hour, then start kneading again, for perhaps another five minutes, until the dough is extremely elastic with the gluten very stretchy.
  2. Slowly add the sugar and continue mixing with the dough hook until throughly mixed in. The dough should loosen out as the sugar dissolves.
  3. Cut the butter into small cubes, perhaps 1cm on a side. Add the butter a little at a time, continuing to mix until it’s all incorporated. I found that the butter tended to clump around the side of the bowl, requiring me to stop mixing at regular intervals and scrape down the sides.
  4. Eventually, you should have a soft, silky dough whose gluten makes it stretch into thin sheets when pulled. Leave it to relax for ten minutes or so.
  5. Add the vanilla, the lemon and orange zest, the salt and the dried fruit, and carry on mixing until the fruit is nicely coated in dough – this is what will stop if from sinking to the bottom of your panettone during baking.
  6. Now leave to ferment until doubled or tripled in size – in my case, this took around three hours.

Day 2 mid-afternoon – stretch and fold

  • 1 panettone mould (or other cylindrical tin)
  • Oil spray
  1. Spray a non-absorbent work surface with oil; also spray your hands, your scraper and the surface of your dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to the work surface.
  3. Stretch the dough as far as you dare, then fold it over onto itself, trapping some air. Repeat a few times, respraying with oil as needed.
  4. Transfer the dough to your mould. It should reach half to 2/3 of the way up.
  5. Leave to rise. You’re hoping for the dough to reach close to the top of the mould, which will probably take at least an hour, maybe two. At some point during this, start heating your oven to 180℃ fan.

Day 2 early evening: glaze and bake

  • 20g egg white
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 20g flaked almonds for topping – I’ve never liked the traditional topping of  “pearl sugar” which is often found on a shop-bought panettone, so I’ve just used the almonds. But you choose.
  1. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the egg white, icing sugar and ground almonds to form a fairly thick, sticky glaze (add egg white if it’s too thick).
  2. Preferably with a silicone brush, paint the mixture carefully over the top of the panettone. Since the dough is very light an puffy at this point, you need to treat it gently: you really don’t want to be tearing holes in the surface right now.
  3. Scatter the ground almonds over the glazed panettone. You can press them in a tiny amount, but again, don’t risk tearing the surface.
  4. If you have an oven-proof temperature probe, insert it into the middle of the loaf and bake until the internal temperature reaches 94℃. I use one called a “Meater”, which is intended for meat cookery but works well for this.
  5. If you don’t have a temperature probe, you’ll have to guess: bake for around 40 minutes and then poke a skewer in through the side to look for signs of dough that’s still wet. Mine took just short of 50 minutes total, in an oven that was supposedly set to 175℃ but was actually running at 180.
  6. When the panettone comes out the oven, hang it upside down to cool for at least 12 hours before serving. There are various ways of doing this: most involve knitting needles or, in my case, Turkish kebab skewers. As you’ll see from the photos, I poked two skewers through the loaf and balanced the whole lot on a pair of towers of cookbooks. It was rustic, but it worked.

If you get this far and have a lovely dome reminiscent of the cupola of the cathedral in Milan, bravo!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.75: back in England for Bakewell Tart

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.75: back in England for Bakewell Tart

It’s not really obvious why the picturesque Derbyshire market town of Bakewell (population 3,949 at the last census) should have become known as the home of England’s most famous tart. The dessert that bears its name didn’t even start out as a tart – the “Bakewell Pudding” starts to appear in recipes in the early 1800s (there are arguments as to exactly when) and then morphs into its present pastry-fruit-and-frangipane form around the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps it’s just down to the name.

The ubiquitous mass-produced “iced cherry Bakewell” would not make a fit subject for a blog post. But Nigella Lawson’s classic How to Eat has a fabulous recipe for Bakewell Tart. It may owe rather more to French patisserie than to what you’d find in a pastry shop in the village, but it really captures the Bakewell Tart’s almond-and-raspberry loveliness and has been a favourite in my family for years. I’ve changed a few things – mine is a little less sweet and the pastry technique is slightly different (actually based on another recipe in the same book), which I find makes more elastic pastry that’s less prone to tearing. But if you buy the book and make the original, that will work perfectly well too.

If your raspberries aren’t all that sweet (this is December, so mine very much weren’t), you’ll want some extra raspberry jam or, as I’ve done here, use some raspberry coulis made from raspberries cooked down with a bit of sugar and cooled (I happened to have some left over from a previous dessert).

The pastry

  • 200g plain flour (preferably OO grade), plus more for rolling
  • 40g icing sugar
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 60g butter, cold
  • 2 Eggs
  • Juice of half a lemon
  1. Put the flour, icing sugar and ground almonds into the bowl of your food processor.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes (perhaps 5-10mm)  and add to the bowl.
  3. Put the bowl in the freezer for at least half an hour.
  4. Remove the bowl from the freezer and blitz to a fine, sandy texture.
  5. Beat together the eggs and lemon juice, add to the bowl and pulse for a short time to blend in.
  6. Pour the contents onto a surface, bring it together into a ball, knead it a few times, flatten, wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
  7. Grease a tart tin (the quantities here do a 27-30cm tin).
  8. Flour your board and rolling pin; roll out the pastry to a diameter several centimetres larger than your tin, then line the tin with the pastry.
  9. Put the tart in its tin back into the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble it.

The frangipane filling

  • 3 large eggs
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 180g butter, melted
  1. Put the eggs into the bowl of your stand mixer, setting aside half an egg white for use brushing the pastry.
  2. Mix the eggs, caster sugar and almonds
  3. When you’re sure the butter is cool enough not to scramble the eggs, mix it in thoroughly

Putting it all together

  • 300g raspberries
  • 70g raspberry jam or coulis (omit this if the raspberries are sweet)
  • Flaked almonds for sprinkling (I used around 25g)
  • Optional: 100ml or so whipped cream
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃ fan
  2. Prick the pastry base with a fork
  3. Brush the base with your reserved egg white: this helps to stop the jam and/or filling seeping into the pastry with the resulting dreaded “soggy bottom”.
  4. If you’re using the jam or coulis, spread it over as evenly as you can manage.
  5. Dot the raspberries evenly around the whole of the tart base.
  6. Pour the frangipane mixture evenly over the tart base and raspberries. You may need to tilt or shake the tart slightly to get everything reasonably level.
  7. Scatter flaked almonds over the top.
  8. Bake until golden brown, around 35 minutes.
  9. Cool and serve. Whipped cream with a dollop of raspberry jam folded lightly through it makes a nice accompaniment.
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.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.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.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.54: Basler Kirschenbrottorte from Switzerland

The German (or, in this case, Swiss-German) habit of running nouns together does sometimes lead you to a recipe that does exactly what it says on the tin: Basler Kirschenbrottorte (cherry-bread-cake from Basel) is, er, a cake whose two main ingredients are bread and cherries. And which comes from the city on the triple border between Switzerland, France and Germany. It’s surprisingly light for something which is not so far from a bread pudding, it’s fruity, cinnamon infused and bursts with flavour. This recipe comes from the food blog Helvetic Kitchen, where it’s accompanied by a nice family story to go with. I’ve halved the quantities.

To state the bleeding obvious, it isn’t cherry season in London right now, so I’ve gone for a 500g pack of frozen black cherries. This seemed to do the job OK, with the advantage that the cherries arrive already stoned, albeit with care needed to ensure that they were properly defrosted and with most of the surplus water dried off. However, I’m going to suggest that if you have fresh cherries growing anywhere near you, the way to go is definitely going to be to make this in season.

Warning: this recipe uses a lot of bowls. I can’t see an obvious way around this.

  • 500g cherries
  • 250 g leftover bread (in my case, this was the last of my Antiguan Sunday Bread)
  • 200 ml milk
  • vanilla paste or extract to taste
  • 100 g biscuit crumbs – I used Digestive biscuits; in the US, one would probably go for Graham Crackers.
  • 60 g butter
  • 100 g sugar
  • 3 large eggs (around 200g total)
  • pinch of salt
  • 50 g ground almonds
  • 10 g flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • kirsch or fruit schnapps to taste
  1. If using frozen cherries, defrost them.
  2. Preheat oven to 180℃.
  3. Cut the bread into 1 cm cubes and put in a bowl.
  4. Put the milk and vanilla into a saucepan and scald until very warm (80-90℃). Take off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.
  5. Remove the stones from the cherries, if this hasn’t been done for you already
  6. Prepare a 20cm springform tin: line the bottom with baking paper, grease the sides generously with butter. 
  7. Once the milk is at room temperature, pour it over the bread and squeeze it down so that all the bread has soaked up some milk.
  8. Blitz your biscuits to a powder. Take about half the crumbs and spread them evenly over the base of the tin.
  9. Cream the butter and sugar together.
  10. Separate the eggs, pouring the whites into a bowl of your stand mixer, and the yolks into the butter-sugar mixture.
  11. In yet another bowl, mix the remaining biscuit crumbs, ground almonds, flour, cinnamon and salt; stir until blended evenly.
  12. Add the bread mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and mix.
  13. Add in the flour mixture and mix until everything is very even.
  14. Add the cherries and kirsch and mix.
  15. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold in.
  16. Pour the cake mix into your tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. If the cake looks like browning too far before the middle is cooked, cover it with foil for the last 5-10 minutes.
  17. Remove and cool on a rack.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.49: Vaisių pyragas, fruit cake from Lithuania

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.49: Vaisių pyragas, fruit cake from Lithuania

Time for a different kind of bake altogether: a yeasted fruit cake, which is a lovely afternoon snack somewhere between a cake and a bread. This one is from Lithuania and comes to us all via food writer Barbara Rolek: the same recipe seems to surface in lots of different US websites. I first spotted it on The Spruce Eats; I’ve halved and metricised the quantities, as well as tweaking a few things.

The result is a bit like a giant, fruit studded cinnamon bun. It’s great for slicing and storing in the freezer for a ready supply of snacks. The recipe doesn’t need excessive amounts of work, but it needs a lot of elapsed time – there are multiple rises which can each take a couple of hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Start early.

A couple of caveats, especially if you’re looking at the photos:

  • You can use pretty much any dried fruit you like. I couldn’t get glacé cherries, which looked nice in the original recipe. 
  • The dough on mine came out very stiff indeed, so you may find you want to increase the amount of milk.
  • I used bread flour, which was probably a mistake. I’d stick with plain flour next time.
  • Also next time, I’d probably start by activating the yeast in some warm water (or milk) and sugar. The recipe doesn’t suggest this, but not doing it meant that my dough took an eternity to rise.

The dough

  • 8g yeast
  • 120g sugar
  • 180 ml milk
  • 550g plain flour
  • 4g salt
  • 60g butter
  • 1.5 large eggs
  • 180g mixed fruit
  • 120g raisins
  • 40g walnuts
  • 30 ml rum
  1. In your stand mixer, combine 300g of the flour, 60g of the sugar, the yeast and milk and mix until reasonably smooth. Cover and leave to rest for an hour.
  2. Melt the butter. Add it to the mix with the eggs, the salt and the rest of the sugar and the flour. With the dough hook, knead for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Add the fruit, raisins, walnuts and rum. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Expect this to take an hour or two.

The filling

  • 30g butter
  • 60g sugar
  • 6g cinnamon
  1. Melt the butter. 
  2. Mix with the sugar and cinnamon. Leave to cool somewhat.

Putting it together

  1. Grease a loaf tin.
  2. Flour a surface and roll out your dough into a rectangle. The width of your rectangle should be somewhat under the length of your loaf tin; the length around 1½ times the width.
  3. Spread your rectangle of dough with the filling. Don’t go too close to the edges – you won’t want filling leaking out.
  4. Roll up the dough into a thick sausage, ensuring the filling is sealed inside. Transfer the sausage into your loaf tin.
  5. Leave to rise until doubled in size. Again, this could easily take 1-2 hours. If this hasn’t happened after a couple of hours, give up and bake it anyway.
  6. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  7. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 175℃, then bake for around another 40 minutes.
  8. Leave to cool on a rack. If you want, sprinkle with icing sugar (I didn’t).

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.46: Brazo da Reina from Chile

I have no idea why a Swiss Roll is called a Swiss Roll. I’ve travelled to Switzerland a lot and I don’t remember seeing one there. If Wikipedia is to believed, it doesn’t even come from Switzerland in the first place. But apparently, if you happen to be in Chile, at 5pm, it’s time for a coffee and a slice of Brazo da Reina – a rolled sponge cake filled with dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk). The name in Spanish means “the Queen’s Arm”, which sounds to British ears more like a pub sign, which just goes to show that there’s no accounting for language. It’s not really clear where that name comes from either, and the same cake has other names in different bits of Latin America: Brazo de gitano (gypsy’s arm) or Pionono. Other countries also use different fillings.

The Chilean recipe I started from is notable for having a lot of eggs and no shortening whatsoever, which makes for an incredibly light, airy sponge cake. There are other recipes that use a small amount of oil.

The recipe I used tells you to fold the egg yolks into the beaten whites, then add the flour to the whole lot. That was a little too far outside my comfort zone, so I stuck to a more conventional scheme of mixing egg yolks, sugar and flour before folding, which worked very well.

The tricky part of making a roll cake – especially one as light an airy as this – is to roll it up without tearing. I wasn’t 100% successful, but it was good enough.

The last time I made dulce de leche, for Argentinian alfajores, I baked the condensed milk in an oven tray, which worked OK but was fiddly. For this recipe, I found the ultimate cheat method in the Brazo da Reina recipe in a blog called Curious Cuisiniere – just boil the condensed milk in its can. It’s close to zero effort and worked perfectly. Their advice for rolling up the cake seemed sensible too: this is the first time I’ve tried a roll cake, so I can’t speak for how well other methods work.

You’ll want a Swiss roll tin, around 30cm x 20cm.

The dulce de leche filling

  • 400g can of condensed milk
  1. Put the tin of condensed milk (unopened, but you may want to take the paper off) into a saucepan, pour water to cover it (with some spare, since it will evaporate), and bring it to the boil.
  2. Leave it to simmer for 2-3 hours (two will get you a light caramelisation, 3 will get you a more golden-brown and stronger tasting result.
  3. Remove the tin from the pan and leave it to cool.

The cake

  • Butter for greasing tin
  • 6 eggs
  • 240g flour
  • 10g baking powder
  • 180g caster sugar
  • icing sugar for dusting
  1. Preheat oven to 175℃
  2. Grease your tin with butter, then line it with baking paper, then grease the baking paper generously.
  3. Separate the eggs into two mixing bowls.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder together.
  5. Beat the egg yolks and add half the caster sugar. Then add the flour and baking powder and mix until well blended. The mixture will be quite stiff.
  6. In the other bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining caster sugar and whisk at high speed until you have a stiff meringue
  7. Add around a quarter of the meringue to your flour mixture and mix in until smooth. Do the same with another quarter, now taking care to keep as much air in the meringue as you can. Now fold in the remaining meringue, working really hard to keep the air in.
  8. Spread the mixture evenly into your tin. Ideally, use an offset spatula to get it really level (I don’t have one, so I just did my best.
  9. Bake for around 10 minutes. You do NOT want to overbake the sponge or you stand no chance of rolling it intact.
  10. Leave to cool for a minute or two, then run a palette knife round the edge to make sure the cake is not sticking to the edge. Sprinkle some icing sugar over the cake.
  11. Spread a tea towel over the cake, and then an inverted cooling rack. Turn the whole assembly upside down. As gently as you can, remove your cake tin. The cake should sit on its tea towel in one piece.
  12. Very gently, pull off the baking paper almost all the way, then put it back in place.
  13. Now roll the cake up as tightly as you can, and leave to cool for an hour or so.
  14. Unroll the cake (this is the part where it’s hard to stop it tearing), spread the filling over it, then roll it up again.
  15. (Optional – I didn’t) dust the cake with more icing sugar.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.44: Runebergintorttu from Finland

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.44: Runebergintorttu from Finland

The weather in London today has been unremittingly grey with continuous drizzle, reminding me of a trip to Savonlinna in Finland, which is also the country which provided us with the biggest northern hemisphere rainstorm of our lives. So here, in homage to Finland and in honour of the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg’s birthday next week, are Runebergintorttu or Runeberg Cakes.

To be fair on my many Finnish friends and on Savonlinna, which is a truly fabulous festival set in an impossible atmospheric mediaeval castle, it’s drop-dead gorgeous when the sun comes out (which it did the following day). And the Finns have a lot going for them, not least the best rainproof gear I’ve ever bought and also the best loudspeakers on the planet (with all those forests, the Finns really know their wood) and a surprisingly dry sense of humour (opera lovers need to check out Covid fan tutte).

One note on the photos: I don’t have the tall cylindrical moulds that you need to make Runebergintorttu properly, so mine are baked in a standard muffin tin. But they taste the same… If that level of authenticity bothers you, this is the kind of thing that should work.

I started with a recipe from scandikitchen.co.uk and only changed a few things: I couldn’t get hold of Leksands crispbread, but I did find some dark Ryvita which I believe to be pretty similar. I used blackberry jam rather than raspberry. Vanilla essence is easier to find than vanilla sugar in these parts. I didn’t have any amaretto either, so I grated the zest of the orange that made the orange juice and added that. Personally, I think the combination of orange, cardamom and rye turned out to be an absolute winner.

  • 125g butter, plus some for greasing
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 100g plain flour
  • 6g (1 tsp) baking powder
  • 2g salt
  • 50g crispbread (Leksands, Ryvita or whatever), or just use breadcrumbs
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • 100ml cream
  • 50ml orange juice, plus zest of the orange
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • 80g icing sugar
  • Raspberry jam (or, in my case, blackberry jelly) to finish
  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
  2. If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into small cubes and leave to soften.
  3. Grease your muffin tin (or other cake mould) with some more butter.
  4. Mix your flour, baking powder, ground almonds and salt.
  5. Grind your crispbread into breadcrumbs
  6. Cream the butter and sugar together
  7. Add the eggs and mix
  8. Add the flour mixture and combine
  9. Add the breadcrumbs and cream and combine
  10. Add the orange juice, zest and vanilla essence and mix thoroughly. You should now have a fairly thick, sticky batter.
  11. Divide the batter into the moulds in your cake tin.
  12. Bake for around 15 minutes.
  13. Leave to cool in the tin for a short while, then turn them out.
  14. You will serve the cakes upside down. Since they have probably domed somewhat, cut them reasonably flat so that they stand upright.
  15. Mix the icing sugar with about 10ml warm water until you have a thick paste. Transfer this to a piping bag.
  16. Pipe a circle of icing around the top of each cake. Put a dollop of jam into the middle of the circle. I found this easier than the original recipe, which suggests doing the jam first (as per the photos).
  17. Leave the icing to dry (or don’t bother) and enjoy!
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.37: Dutch Apple Pie

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.37: Dutch Apple Pie

For Americans, the phrase “Apple Pie and Motherhood” (or possibly “Apple Pie and Mom”) means “a thing in life that everyone agrees to be unarguably good”. But even Americans would accept that Apple Pie comes from the Netherlands. In fact, there are two variants of Dutch Apple Pie: appeltaart, the lattice-topped version that I’ve made here, and appelkruimeltaart, a crumble-topped version whose American equivalent is Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie.

Most Dutch recipes (I’ve started with this one) go for a shortcrust pastry with a fairly high butter to flour ratio (this recipe uses 2:3, but I’ve seen higher), sweetened with brown sugar. As often, I’ve cut down the amount of sugar – the original recipe goes for 50% more than I’ve used. The Dutch use self-raising flour, which moves the end result somewhere in the direction of a cake compared to a typical French apple tart or English pie. A neat trick is to cover your base with a layer of breadcrumbs: this soaks up the juices in the early part of the bake and helps to prevent the dreaded soggy bottom.

 The filling is usually fairly heavily spiced and often has other fruit or nuts in addition to the apple. I’ve chosen cinnamon and raisins, but there are plenty of alternatives: cloves, ginger, walnuts or almonds to name just a few. At least once recipe recommends soaking your raisins in rum.

If you’re not in the Netherlands with access to Goudreinet (Golden Rennet) or Belle de Boskoop apples, you’ll have to improvise. You’re going to want an apple which is crisp enough not to disintegrate while baking, and which has plenty of flavour and a level of tartness. Lockdown London isn’t offering my usual levels of choice, so I went for 50/50 Granny Smith and Cox’s Orange Pippin, which worked pretty well. The Granny Smiths are there for tartness, but I’d worry that using them exclusively would be both too sour and too watery.

The pastry

  • 300 g self raising flour, plus flour for rolling
  • 100 g soft brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 200 g cold butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt.
  2. Cut the butter into small cubes and mix into the flour mixture with your fingertips until you’ve got rid of the lumps of unblended butter.
  3. Keep aside a small amount of egg for brushing, pour the rest into your mixture and blend until you have a smooth dough which no longer sticks to the side of your bowl.
  4. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes.

The filling

  • 1 kg apples (see above)
  • Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
  • 6g ground cinnamon
  • 50 g sugar
  • 50 g raisins
  1. Peel, core and chop the apples into quarters, then chop each quarter into 4-5 slices. As you go, put the pieces into a bowl with the lemon juice and mix them around: the lemon will stop the apples going brown as you work.
  2. Add the raisins.
  3. Combine the sugar and cinnamon, add them to the apples and raisins and mix everything until even.

Final assembly

  • Breadcrumbs (probably around 30g – sorry, I didn’t measure)

I used the fan setting on my oven and I wish I hadn’t – baking for longer without the fan would have resulted in a somewhat softer filling. If you like the apples crunchier, go with the fan option.

  1. Preheat oven to 180℃ conventional.
  2. Grease a 22-23cm springform tin with butter.
  3. Divide the dough into 3 portions, roughly 40%, 40%, 20%.
  4. Roll out the first portion into a circle and use this to line the base of your tin. Trim off any excess and keep it.
  5. Roll the next portion into a long rectangle (you may need more than one) and use it to line the sides of your tin. Again, trim off and keep any excess.
  6. Add all the excess dough to your third piece, roll it out and cut into strips, around 1cm wide.
  7. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly to cover the base of your tart.
  8. Fill the tart with the apple mixture, trying to get rid of the air gaps so the apples are packed well down (but don’t press too hard). The filling will probably form a slight dome over the top: that’s fine.
  9. With your strips of dough, form a lattice over the tart. The Dutch tend to do a kind of overlapping W-shaped pattern – my attempt at this was comically clumsy, as you’ll see from the photos, but this didn’t really matter. You can also do a standard criss-cross version (and if you’re feeling particularly competent, weave it).
  10. Brush the top of the pastry lattice with the remaining egg.
  11. Bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown, which should take around 50 minutes (conventional) or 40 minutes (fan) – depending, as ever, on your oven.
  12. Leave to cool. After 10 minutes or so, extract the pie from the tin.

Enjoy. It’s the perfect treat for a damp, autumnal day.