Tag: Pastry

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.56: baked spring rolls from Malaysia

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.56: baked spring rolls from Malaysia

As far as I can see, the real definition of a spring roll is “anything you like that has vaguely Far Eastern flavourings, wrapped in a cigar shape of very thin pastry”. However, this being a baking blog with pretensions of authenticity, I started off with an actual Malaysian recipe – and one that specifies how to bake them rather than the more usual deep fry. If like me, you try to steer clear of deep frying, the use of cooking spray – not something I’d come across before using this recipe – seems to work pretty well, getting a result that’s crisp, non-greasy and holds its filling, even if you don’t get the classic “golden all over” look of the fried version.

The recipe will be very forgiving as to quantities: shown here are what I had easily available. The original recipe specifies jicama, a root vegetable that I couldn’t get hold of, so I substituted with a couple of cans of water chestnuts. I believe that mooli (aka daikon) also makes a good substitute, but with a more distinctive flavour of its own.

The filling

  • 500g lean pork mince
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Oil for frying (I used groundnut oil, any neutral oil will do
  • 450g water chestnuts
  • 2 large carrots
  • 450g cabbage
  • 3 spring onions
  1. Combine pork mince, soy sauce and black pepper in a bowl, mix well.
  2. Chop garlic and onion finely
  3. Shred cabbage
  4. Peel the carrots, grate them and the water chestnuts – I did this in a food processor.
  5. Warm a small amount of oil in a wok, add the pork mixture and fry for a couple of minutes
  6. Add onion and garlic, fry until the meat is browned and the onion is soft
  7. Add the water chestnuts, carrots and cabbage, and keep cooking until the vegetables are cooked through and most of the water has been cooked out of them.
  8. Chop the spring onions and add them.
  9. Put the whole lot in a colander or sieve for ten minutes or so (or as long as you like) to allow more of the excess moisture to drain away.

Assembly and baking

Although I usually try to make my own pastry from scratch for this blog, I just couldn’t see a good reason for doing so here – and as far as I know, none of my Asian friends can be bothered either: the supermarket-bought wrappers are just fine. I couldn’t find fresh ones, so I bought a frozen pack: it was important to defrost them well in advance, because otherwise, peeling a wrapper off the frozen block would have been impossible without tearing it.

How many spring rolls this makes is a function of the size of your wrappers and how much filling you want to put into each. If you put a large amount of filling into each wrapper, you’ll have thinner pastry and a less carb-heavy dish; if you put less filling, you’ll have multiple layers of pastry, which will make it easier to get a crisper outside. I used wrappers that were 190mm square and put quite a lot of filling in, so the quantities here made about 20. Next time, I think, I’d go for two thirds of the filling I used here and make 30 rolls.

You want to work as quickly as you can manage, because the moisture from the filling will soak into the pastry faster than you would like.

  • 1 packet spring roll wrappers (20-30)
  • Cooking spray (I used a sunflower oil spray)
  1. Preheat oven to 225℃ fan
  2. Have ready a baking tray with a rack above it – I used a rack that I would normally use for cooling cakes or biscuits. Also have ready a small bowl of water and a pastry brush.
  3. Place a wrapper on a clean work surface so that you’re looking at a diamond rather than a square (i.e. the thing furthest away from you is a corner, not an edge).
  4. Spoon some filling into a cigar shape in the middle of the wrapper, going left-to-right as you see it.
  5. Tuck the corner furthest from you over your cigar of filling
  6. Tuck the left hand right corners into the middle
  7. Brush the remaining flat part of the wrapper with water, and tuck it over your filling to form the completed roll.
  8. Repeat for half a dozen or so rolls, spray them generously with cooking spray, transfer them onto you rack, turning them outside down as you go. Now spray the other side.
  9. Repeat until your rack is full. You’ll probably need to do the whole process twice: if you have a second pan and rack, you can bake them all at the same time; otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the first batch is backed.
  10. Bake for around 25-30 minutes until crisp.
  11. Cool slightly before eating.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.48: Chicken, egg and almond bastillas from Morocco

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.48: Chicken, egg and almond bastillas from Morocco

Bastillas (or Pastillas) are Moroccan pies made with ultra-thin pastry. They’re unquestionably one of the country’s most famous dishes: you will find dozens of different types, with different recipes for each type. But be careful: there are some disappointingly bland recipes around. On the other hand, a really good, flavour-packed Bastilla can be dazzling, a huge crowd-pleaser. It’s complex, but it’s worth it.

I’ve chosen one of the most popular types: the chicken, egg and almond bastilla. I based my version on a combination of The Spruce Eats, My Moroccan Food and French-language blog Choumicha.ma and the results were outstanding. But you have lots of choices, which I’ll try to explain.

There are some constants: you’re going to make a chicken and onion stew with herbs (most probably parsley and coriander) and spices, which will definitely include ground ginger and turmeric. You’re going to scramble some eggs. You’re going to chop up some almonds. And you’re going to bake all of these in a shell of layered thin pastry. But beyond those basics, you’ve got several options.

The first crucial one is the size: you can make a single large bastilla or multiple individually size ones. I went for something in between: the quantities below make enough for six people (assuming that you’ve got some other side dishes of some sort), and I chose to do two bastillas for the two of us to have on separate days (with leftovers).

The next question is the type of pastry. If you’re going for the full-on Moroccan experience, you’ll want to freshly make your own pastry sheets: Choumicha has a really nice video showing you how it’s done. The Spruce gives the pastry a name, “warqa”, and shows a similar recipe. The warqa process is seriously weird, but works fine once you’ve got used to it. Since I wasn’t feeling super-confident, I made enough pastry for one of my two bastillas, and used supermarket-bought filo pastry for the other. The warqa version was a clear winner: it’s a time consuming faff, but the result is considerably superior and I won’t be going back to filo any time soon.

You have options on the spicing: saffron, cinnamon, ras el hanout and orange blossom water are just some of them. Some Moroccan recipes use smen, a fermented butter not dissimilar to the Indian ghee, either in place of the oil or in addition to it.

I went for chicken thigh fillets because there are better quality ones available than whole thighs at the supermarket I use. Cooking your chicken on the bone will get you a richer sauce.

Next, there’s the question of how to layer your fillings. I went for a three layer approach: chicken mixed with onion sauce, scrambled eggs, ground almonds. There are other possibilities (keep the chicken and the sauce separate and/or blend your eggs into the sauce when you scramble them).

Finally, there’s the question of icing sugar. I really don’t like things sweet so I ignored the two instructions to add icing sugar: one when grinding the almonds and one when the whole bastilla is finished.

That’s more than enough about the possible variations: let’s get down to the recipe I made.

The chicken filling

If you can, make your filling the day before. Like many stewed dishes, it tastes more intense when the flavours have had lots of time to infuse. Quantities of herbs are very approximate: I’ve never yet found a dish that gets spoiled by adding too many fresh herbs.

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 800g chicken thigh fillets (or around 8 large chicken thighs)
  • 500g onions
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout
  • A small pinch saffron
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 20g flat leaf parsley
  • 20g coriander leaves
  • ½ tablespoon honey
  1. Divide the chicken thigh fillets into two at the point where they’re nearly split anyway.
  2. Chop the onions reasonably finely (you don’t need to go overboard).
  3. Heat oil in a pan, add the chicken, onions, spices, salt and pepper.
  4. Fry on medium heat, uncovered, until the chicken is browned on all sides and the onions are transparent (around 10-15 minutes)
  5. Add the parsley and coriander and a small amount of water (perhaps 50-100ml), cover your pan and simmer until the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Remove the chicken and set aside. Discard the cinnamon stick. Add honey to the mixture, uncover your pan and cook until almost all the water has evaporated and you have a thick paste. You don’t want a watery sauce turning your pastry soggy.
  7. Meanwhile, if your chicken was on the bone, remove the bones and skin. Chop the chicken into small pieces, perhaps 5-10mm across.
  8. Recombine the chicken and the sauce and set aside.

The almond filling

  • 200g blanched almonds
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  1. Preheat oven to 160℃ fan
  2. Spread almonds out on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil
  3. Bake in the oven for until golden: around 15-20 minutes
  4. Remove and leave to cool
  5. Blitz the almonds in a food processor until you have a coarse grain – you don’t want a fine powder or the oil will start coming out of the nuts.
  6. Set aside

The warqa pastry sheets

The amount here should be about right for a single large bastilla. If you’re making more smaller bastillas and/or you’re a bit heavy handed with your pancake creation, you might need to increase the recipe, up to double.

  • 160g flour
  • 240 ml water
  • 5g salt
  • Olive oil for brushing
  1. Whisk together flour, water and salt until you have a smooth, runny batter. In the Choumicha video, this is done in a blender, but a bowl and a balloon whisk work fine.
  2. Have a nylon or silicone pastry brush ready.
  3. Have a small dish of olive oil ready, with a different pastry brush (of any type you like)
  4. Prepare a double boiler by bringing water to the boil in a saucepan which should be just under the diameter of a non-stick frying pan that you place above it.
  5. On a work surface as near as you can get to the pan, spread a sheet of plastic or cling film somewhat wider than your pan. Have another one of the same size ready.
  6. Once the pan is warm, quickly paint an ultra-thin layer of batter across all of the bottom of the pan. The correct thickness is less than you think – you’ll hardly be able to see the batter because it’s just about transparent.
  7. After about 2-3 minutes, the pastry sheet will be cooked: you’ll know because the edges will start to curl away from the rounded sides of the pan. Now comes the scary part: pick the sheet up carefully by one of the edges and peel it off the pan.
  8. Transfer the pancake to your plastic sheet, brush olive oil over it, and put the second plastic sheet over it to stop it drying out. You’ll lift that second sheet off shortly before the next pancake is cooked.
  9. Repeat until you’ve run out of batter. If all goes well, you’ll hardly need to clean your frying pan, but if you’ve had a failure, just wash up the frying pan, put it back in double boiler position and wait until it’s properly warmed up again before continuing.

The egg filling

  • 5 large eggs
  • 10g butter (quantity very approximate)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper
  2. Melt butter in a pan
  3. Add the eggs and stir over medium heat until you have a fairly dry scrambled egg mixture (like the chicken filling, you don’t want it making your pastry soggy).

Putting it all together

Ideally, you will have a round dish with shallow, slightly rounded sides to help form you bastilla into the traditional round shape. If, like me, you don’t, you’ll just have to go freehand on a greased baking tray.

  • Olive oil, melted ghee or smen for brushing
  1. Preheat oven to 200℃ fan
  2. If you’re going to make more than one bastilla, divide your fillings up into equal portions and repeat the instructions below for each.
  3. Place a few overlapping layers of pastry in a pattern big enough that once you’ve made your mound of fillings, you will be able to cover them in at least two or three sheets.
  4. Make a flattened mound of chicken filling in the centre.
  5. Spread the top with the scrambled egg.
  6. Spread the top with ground almonds.
  7. Fold a layer of pastry over the top. Brush it with oil (or ghee or smen).
  8. Repeat until all the layers have been folder over and you have a completed round pie, brushed across its top.
  9. Bake until golden, around 20 minutes. Take out and cool.
  10. Moroccans sprinkle the whole thing with icing sugar and cinnamon before serving. I didn’t.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.45: Pastizzi from Malta

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.45: Pastizzi from Malta

The styles and sizes vary, but most food cultures have a filled parcel that you can eat on the street: China has bao dumplings, Japan has onigiri, most Latin countries have empañadas, and so on. The Maltese version is the pastizz, which is somewhere in size between a samosa and a Cornish pasty. Its case is flaky pastry which is made by creating a spiral cross-section of dough and shortening (the same trick, roughly, as used in Portuguese pastéis de nata); the filling can be pretty much anything but is often either based on ricotta cheese or peas.

Starting from a Maltese Youtube video and halving the quantities, I chose a lightly curried pea-and-tomato filling, which is pretty straightforward and comes out rather like one of my favourite Indian dishes, mutter paneer (without the paneer, but I can’t see a good reason not to include that if you want). If you are looking carefully at the photos, you’ll see that I ran out of peas on one of my runs and substituted some mixed veg.

As with all versions of puff pastry, getting the layers right is tricky, and I got it spectacularly wrong on my first attempt, not least because the ratio of flour to water in the recipe is way off what it needs to be. This isn’t the most time consuming puff pastry recipe you’ll ever see: there’s a lot of elapsed time for resting, but it’s not too bad on actual work. But it’s fiddly to get the layers thin enough and roll them up into a good shape without breaking them. If you’re like me, you’ll need practise.

Anyway, the results are well worth it: they make a really good mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, tasty, filling and nutritious.

Filling

Although I’m giving the filling recipe first, you’ll almost certainly want to start the dough first and make the filling during the extensive resting times.

You could add any of garlic, ginger or chilies to this if you want a spicier version. I like adding curry leaves, too, which isn’t exactly Maltese but adds aroma.

  • Sunflower or other neutral oil for frying
  • 2g (1tsp) cumin seeds
  • 220g onion
  • 7g curry powder (or your own favourite mix of ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder)
  • 70g double concentrated tomato paste (my favourite brand is Cirio)
  • 350g frozen peas
  1. Take the peas out of the freezer. You can do this in advance, but you don’t have to.
  2. Chop the onion finely
  3. Heat cumin seeds in oil in a wok or medium size pan
  4. Once the cumin seeds are spitting, add the onion and stir fry for a couple of minutes
  5. Add the curry powder and continue frying until the onions are soft
  6. Add the tomato paste and 100ml or so of water, stir until blended.
  7. Add the peas, bring back to the boil, turn the heat down and simmer until the peas are cooked and the sauce is very thick.
  8. Turn the heat off and leave until needed.

Dough

  • 420g flour +40 second time, + 15g sunflower oil
  • 250ml water
  • 10g salt
  • 125g shortening – Maltese recipes specify a vegetable shortening like Trex or Crisco, but you can almost certainly substitute ghee or melted butter if you prefer the taste (or use a mixture)
  • A little olive oil
  1. Mix flour and salt in the bowl of your stand mixer; add water and knead on low to medium speed with the dough hook until you have a smooth but fairly stiff dough. You need enough water that you don’t have lots of uncombined flour, but not so much as to make the mixture sticky.
  2. Form your dough into a thick cylinder, spread with shortening, wrap with cling film and leave to rest for around 30 minutes.
  3. Roll the cylinder into a reasonably long and thin rectangle, spread with more shortening on both sides, place cling film over the top and rest again for another 30 minutes.
  4. Now roll the dough as thin as you can possibly make it – still in a long, rectangle. Spread with shortening over the top.
  5. Starting from one end, roll your dough into a long cigar shape, pulling the pastry as you go and making sure you get all the air out. You will need to go from side to side and back again, pulling and rolling. Leave to rest for another hour or two. Towards the end of this, preheat your oven to 200℃ fan.
  6. Pull your cylinder so that it’s now very long. Cut the resulting cylinder into around twelve pieces.
  7. Have a small bowl of olive oil ready. Dip both thumbs in oil, then pick up a piece of dough, dig both thumbs into one end and shape and stretch it into a cup – this may or may not remind you of primary school pottery classes. 
  8. Flip the cup inside out (so that the bit with the olive oil is on the outside, spoon a dollop of filling into it, and pinch the outside together to seal. When it’s done, put it on a baking tray, lying it roughly flat (don’t try to leave the seam pointing upwards). Repeat for the other eleven pastizzi.
  9. Bake for around 30 minutes. Take out of the oven when golden (and, we hope, flaky).
  10. While leaving to cool, attempt to sing Maltese folksongs. Or not.
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.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.29: Pasta Frola from Paraguay

Where home-coming Argentinians make a beeline for Alfajores, Paraguayans head for Pasta Frola: a lattice-topped jam tart filled with either guava or quince paste. Childhood summers in Portugal have made me particularly partial to quince paste, and in any case, guavas are hard to get hold of here in England, so the quince version was the obvious choice.

Time for a couple of short linguistic digressions. The Spanish for quince is “membrillo”, and quince paste (sometimes called “quince cheese” for reasons I can’t fathom) is “dulce de membrillo”. In Portuguese, however, a quince is a “marmelo” and the paste is called “marmelada”. The English word “marmalade” confuses both Portuguese (where orange jam is just called “doce de laranja”) and Italians, for whom the word “marmellata” means jam of any sort, and “marmellare” means “to make jam”. In Italian, “pasta frolla” simply means shortcrust pastry, and this dessert would be called a “crostata”.

You can buy dulce de membrillo ready made in the UK, but it tends to be fairly expensive at around £25 or £30 for a kilo. Anyway, our local shops don’t stock it and our local fruit shop had quinces, so I had a go at making my own. Peeling quinces is a bit of faff – the skin is very tough – but other than that, the process isn’t too difficult.

Quince paste

This is metricised and modified slightly from the recipe from simplyrecipes.com. I overbought quinces and made around double this recipe, which was way too much: the quantities here will make well over 1kg of paste, which is a lot more than you need for the Pasta Frola.

  • Around 1 kg of quinces (typically 4 fruit)
  • Grated zest and juice of one lemon
  • Vanilla essence to taste
  • Around 800g jam sugar (to be adjusted)
  1. Peel and core the quinces, being sure to remove the fibrous bit of stalk that’s inside the quince. Chop coarsely (maybe 8-12 pieces per fruit).
  2. Put them in a saucepan, add the grated lemon zest cover them with cold water and bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer for around 30-40 minutes until you can cut them with a wooden spoon
  4. Drain the quince pieces and transfer to the bowl of a food processor: blitz until extremely smooth (this can take several minutes).
  5. Return the puree to a saucepan, add the sugar, vanilla essence and lemon juice.
  6. Bring to the boil, uncovered, and simmer gently for 60-90 minutes, stirring often enough to ensure that you don’t caramelise the paste on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Preheat oven to 125℃
  8. When the mixture is a dark pink/orange, remove from the heat. Line a shallow rectangular oven dish with baking parchment and spread the mixture evenly into the dish.
  9. Leave the dish in the oven for around 90 minutes for the paste to dry out. The Spanish and Portuguese cook theirs to the consistency of thick jelly, so that you can cut slices of it. It’s quite difficult to get to this stage without burning it somewhere, and in any case, you don’t need to for Pasta Frola: a soft paste is just fine and you’re going to be baking it some more anyway.

By the way, quince paste is a really wonderful accompaniment to cheese, particularly sharply flavoured cheese.

The Pasta Frola

Thanks for this to my daughter’s South American colleague Daniel (who was the person who insisted that it should be included in this blog in the first place). His recipe was for about double this amount as a 40cm x 30cm traybake: I used a square tin with a removable base of around 23cm x 23cm, which left a small amount of pastry left over.

  • 250g plain flour (use OO if possible)
  • 15g baking powder
  • 90g cup of sugar
  • 125g butter, plus some for greasing
  • 3 egg yolks (around 50g)
  • 40ml milk
  • 700g quince paste (see above)
  • 50ml madeira, port or similar fortified wine
  1. Preheat oven to 150℃
  2. If your butter isn’t soft, cut it into squares and leave it a few minutes to soften
  3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, sugar and baking powder and mix well
  4. Add the butter and mix until you reach the breadcrumb stage
  5. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture, together with the milk
  6. Mix until you have a smooth dough
  7. Knead it for a couple of minutes until somewhat elastic, then cover and leave for 15 minutes
  8.  Meanwhile, grease the tin, and mix the quince paste and madeira in a bowl
  9. Once the dough has finished resting, separate out one third of it and set aside. On a generously floured board, roll it out to the size of your tin with around 2cm overlap all the way round
  10. Line your tin with the dough. If, like me, your dough always breaks at this point, don’t worry – just press it into the bottom and sides with your fingers as best you can. The recipe is very forgiving
  11. Pour your quince mixture into the tin and spread it to the edges
  12. If necessary, trim the pastry down to the height of the filling
  13. Roll out the remaining amount of pastry and cut it into strips approximately 1cm wide. Use these to form a lattice over the tart. At this point, you might like to think about how many pieces you’re going to cut the tart into and make sure that you have a gap, not a strip of pastry, at the point at which you’re going to do this (clue: I didn’t do this and learned the hard way).
  14. Brush the pastry on the top with some of the egg white.
  15. Bake for around 40 minutes.
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.25: Apple Strudel from Hungary

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.25: Apple Strudel from Hungary

When I visit Budapest, which used to be pretty much a yearly occurrence before Covid-19, my first culinary port of call is the Első Pesti Rétesház – the First Strudel House of Pest. There’s a dizzying array of mouth-watering strudels with many different fillings, both sweet and savoury, made on the premises in front of your eyes. 

Strudel (rétes in Hungarian) came into the former Austro-Hungarian empire from Turkey – it’s the child of Turkish baklava – and I could have assigned it to any of dozen countries in the empire. But having already visited Vienna for Sachertorte, I’ll give the honour to Budapest: and anyway, it’s further east, so the Turks probably got there first.

My favourite strudel fillings at the Rétesház are meggyes (sour cherries) and túró (curd cheese made from soured milk), but I didn’t have access to the right ingredients for either of these when baking for this post, so I’ve gone for the classic apple filling as found both in Budapest and at Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna.

This is not a straightforward bake. Stretching strudel dough is a tricky business: the best tutorial I’ve found comes from the Lil Vienna website. This is my first attempt and as you’ll see from the photos, I got the dough pretty thin, but nowhere near the targeted perfect transparent rectangle big enough to fit all the filling. So I’ve suggested using about a third more dough than the quantities in the tutorial: you can probably reduce this as your strudel skills improve. (The Schönbrunn recipe, by the way, uses an egg in the dough, which I didn’t).

Making the strudel dough

  • 120ml water
  • 20g sunflower oil, plus more for coating the dough
  • 4g lemon juice or vinegar
  • 2g salt
  • 200g strong white flour, plus plenty more for flouring surfaces
  1. Combine salt and flour
  2. Combine water, oil and lemon juice or vinegar and mix
  3. Combine the wet and dry mixes and mix until you have a smooth dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a modest amount more flour and work it in thoroughly, but don’t overdo it: you want the dough to be moist.
  4. Knead the dough for around 10 minutes (if by hand) or around 7 minutes (if using the dough hook on a stand mixer). Form the dough into a ball
  5. Put a bit of oil into a bowl; roll the dough to coat it completely with oil, cover the bowl and leave it for an hour at room temperature

The apple filling

  • 170g raisins
  • 20g rum (optional)
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 50g butter 
  • 140g sugar
  • 10g ground cinnamon
  •  Around 900-1000g tart apples (I used Granny Smiths, American recipes tend to use MacIntosh)
  • 20g lemon juice (around half a lemon)
  1. Mix the rum and raisins and leave to soak
  2. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and set aside
  3. Melt butter in a pan, add the breadcrumbs and cook over a medium flame, stirring frequently, until the breadcrumbs are golden brown but not burning. Set aside.
  4. Peel and core your apples, then slice each apple quarter into 4-5 slices.
  5. Mix the apples, raisins and cinnamon sugar (but NOT the breadcrumbs)  in a large bowl.

Stretching the dough and putting it all together

  • 50g butter, melted
  • 1-2 tsp icing sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 190℃ fan. Identify a large, flat baking tray: typical would be around 40cm x 30cm. Either cut a piece of baking parchment to approximately the same size or identify a silicone baking mat of that size.
  2. Find a clear space of around 40cm x 100cm on a table or counter top and spread a tablecloth over it (or use an improvised alternative like a sheet); lightly spread flour over the tablecloth. 
  3. Spread flour somewhat more generously over the board onto which you will roll your pastry: you’ll  need a space of around 30cm x 30cm.
  4. Put your ball of dough in the middle of the board, and using a rolling pin, roll it out into as even and large a rectangle as you can manage.
  5. With both hands at one end, pick up the rectangle of dough and allow gravity to stretch it downwards. Working quickly, pass the dough around so that you’re holding a different edge all the time and the dough is stretching evenly across its whole area.
  6. Once you’ve stretched it as much as you dare without it tearing, spread the dough out on your floured tablecloth.
  7. Pull the dough from opposite sides to stretch it. Each time you put it down on the sheet, it will shrink back, but you should gradually be increasing its overall size. You know you’re done when the dough is nearly transparent: traditionally, the test was that you should be able to read a newspaper headline through it, which did not achieve (although I came close). You’re aiming for a length of around 100cm and a width slightly larger than the width of your baking tray.
  8. Spread melted butter over your dough.
  9. Spread the breadcrumb mixture over around one third of the rectangle of dough, around 2-3cm from one end and the sides. Spread the apple mixture on top.
  10. Fold three edges over in an attempt to stop the filling leaking out.
  11. Roll the strudel from the filled end, either by lifting the tablecloth as you roll or using your fingers.
  12. Finish by rolling the completed strudel onto your baking mat or parchment sheet; transfer this onto your baking tray. Brush the whole lot with more melted butter.
  13. Bake until golden, which should take around 30-40 minutes. Beware the photos: mine was slightly overbaked.
  14. Cool,  dust generously with icing sugar and transfer to the dish or board that you will serve the strudel from.
  15. Cut into slices to serve, either on its own or accompanied by any of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, chantilly cream or crème fraiche. And, of course, coffee.

The whole “stretching strudel to paper thickness” process doesn’t actually take that long, but it’s fairly scary when you’re not used to it and it does generate laundry. But my result was palpably more authentic and had better texture and taste than using store-bought phyllo pastry, even though my first attempt had many imperfections: the stretched dough wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t an even rectangle and had several small tears. I’m sure that practice will make perfect and I’m not planning on going back to supermarket phyllo any time soon.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.21: Pastéis de nata from Portugal

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.21: Pastéis de nata from Portugal

This recipe is dedicated to Conceiçao, who looked after me during many happy childhood summers in Portugal. There was only one option for the Portuguese bake: the little puff-pastry custard tartlets called Pastéis de nata – or Pastéis de Belém, in their most famous incarnation in the bakery in the Lisbon suburb of Belém, around the corner from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos and opposite the monument to Henry the Navigator.

A Pastel de nata has two components: a puff-pastry case and its custard filling. There’s nothing particularly unusual about Portuguese puff pastry recipes, so you can use whatever recipe you like. Since puff pastry is fundamentally difficult, the alternative is to simply buy the stuff ready made, but if you do this, try to get an all-butter version or the flavour balance will be seriously off.

What is slightly unusual is the mechanics of the tartlet: the trick is to roll the whole sheet of pastry up tightly, Swiss roll style, then cut it into rounds. You flatten each round and press into the depression of a shallow cupcake or muffin tin to form the characteristic snail shell pattern in the flakes of the cooked pastry.

The custard is also unusual: it starts with a simple flour and water mixture; you then add hot syrup, then you cool the whole lot and add egg yolks; the custard is then baked in the tartlets.

I’ve started from two Portuguese recipes: one for the pastry and one for the pastéis themselves. If you haven’t made puff pastry before, the recipe contains a handy video showing you the technique far better than I can describe it.

The puff pastry

  • 300g plain flour (OO grade if you can get it)
  • 7g salt
  • 170ml water
  • 250g butter (if you can, use a high melting point butter like Président)

Your key objective throughout this process is to avoid the butter melting and leaking out through the sides of your pastry. If it’s a very hot day, which it was when I made these, you will need to put things back into the fridge frequently to keep them down to well below the melting point of the butter. You can tell from the cover photo that I wasn’t entirely successful.

  1. Take the butter out of the fridge. Time this so that when you get to step 3, the butter will be soft enough to roll but still cold enough to be in no danger of melting.
  2. Put the flour, water and salt into a bowl and mix thoroughly until you have a smooth dough. Form the dough into a ball, cut a cross in top (I have no idea why), cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Cut out two large sheets of baking parchment (perhaps 40cm long). Roll the butter between the two sheets to form as neat a square as you can manage: you want a constant thickness. Put the assembly back into the fridge.
  4. On a floured board, roll the dough until it’s slightly over twice the size of your square of butter.
  5. Removing the paper, place the square of butter onto one end of the dough, fold the dough over and seal the edges. Roll the dough out slightly more to make sure that it’s properly laminated.
  6. Fold the dough into three by taking one end to the middle and then the other end on top. Turn it by 90°, roll it out, fold into three again, then wrap with cling film and refrigerate.
  7. Repeat this process twice (if you want to follow the Portuguese recipe strictly, do a 4-way book fold as your second stage). Refrigerate for 20 minutes or more again.
  8. Have a set of muffin or cupcake tins ready. Grease them with a bit of butter.
  9. Roll the pastry flat, then roll the flattened pastry tightly into a cylinder. Cut the cylinder into slices: the recipe says 12, but my pastry came out a bit thick and I reckon that I should have tried to get a few more, perhaps 15 or 18.
  10. Flatten each slice into a circle with the flat of your hand and/or a rolling pin, then press each circle into a muffin tin so that it lines the bottom and sides.
  11. Refrigerate all of this while you make your custard.

The custard

  • 250 ml milk
  • Peel of one lemon
  • 150g sugar
  • 75 g water
  • 4 egg yolks
  • Ground cinnamon to taste

The tricky part of this recipe is to get as many of the lumps out as you can. Use a wire whisk and be ruthless with it!

  1. Preheat oven to 230℃
  2. Peel the lemon, keeping the peel whole in as few pieces as you can manage. Count the pieces. Keep the rest of the lemon for juice later.
  3. In a bowl, mix 100ml of the milk with the flour. Get as many of the lumps out as you can manage.
  4. In a saucepan, bring the remaining 150ml of the milk to the boil with the lemon peel.
  5. Pour in the flour/milk mixture and whisk vigorously, on the heat, for another couple of minutes until you have a thick paste. Remove from the heat and discard the lemon peel (that’s why you needed to count the pieces). You now have another opportunity to have a go with the whisk to get more of the lumps out.
  6. In another pan, mix the sugar and water. Bring to the boil and cook until you have a thick syrup. Mine got as far as 111℃ on a sugar thermometer, which is the top end of the “thread” stage, before it gets to “soft ball”.
  7. Take your pastry out of the fridge around now.
  8. A little at a time, dribble the syrup into your flour mix, whisking all the time. You can speed up towards the end: make sure the syrup and flour mix is as smooth as possible.
  9. Yes, you got it. It’s time to get the lumps out again. I did this by more frantic whisking: I suspect that passing it through a sieve might have been less work, at the cost of a bit of wastage and more washing up.
  10. Add the egg yolks and whisk until smooth

Assembly

  1. Pour the custard into the tartlets
  2. Bake for around 15 minutes. The custard should have blobs that are dark brown, on the verge of burning but not quite there; the pastry around the edges should look golden and flaky.
  3. Dust with a little cinnamon.
  4. Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Pastéis de nata are fabulous straight out of the oven, but you don’t want to burn your tongue. Of course, you can have them cold later.
  5. The Portuguese would never pass up a chance to have these with a bica (short espresso).
Around the world in 80 bakes, no.14: chocolate eclairs from France

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.14: chocolate eclairs from France

The French are fabulous bakers. I could have chosen any of a dozen bakes from France, but this one is the taste of my childhood – my Proustian Madeleine, if you’re of a literary mind. So let’s hear it for the “éclair au chocolat”, which brings back a flood of happy memories of small boy in Parisian patisserie.

There have been some easy bakes in this series of posts: this isn’t one of them. It’s fiddly and  requires hand skill as well as pin-sharp attention to quantities and timing. If anyone labels an eclair recipe as “quick and easy”, don’t believe them.

The éclair is a three part dish: a cylindrical choux pastry bun, a crème pâtissière (pastry cream) filling and a ganache or glaze. Each one has its choices: I’m going to write only one recipe, but I’ll give some ideas about the other options. I should also point out that I’m not a master pastry chef: if you are looking for perfect symmetry and an immaculately shiny top, you’ll need to go well beyond my skill level. But I can assure you that these tasted suitably authentic and went down very well with the family…

The crème pâtissière filling

Eclairs in England tend to use whipped cream as a filling. The French don’t do this: the filling is always some variant of crème pâtissière (pastry cream or creme pat in English), either vanilla or chocolate. You can use plain pastry cream or add some Crème Chantilly (sweetened whipped cream), in which case it’s technically called a Crème Diplomate. I went for something in between: a chocolate crème pâtissière, but with double cream mixed in to thin it down to a pipable consistency.

  • 3 eggs
  • 15g flour
  • 5g cornflour
  • 5g (1tbs) cocoa powder
  • 60g vanilla sugar (or 60g caster sugar plus vanilla essence to taste)
  • 25g dark chocolate (I used chocolate with 70% cocoa solids)
  • 250 ml milk
  • double cream as needed – perhaps 30-50ml

In the methods, I’ve sequenced things to minimise stress rather than overall preparation time. For example, if you were trying to minimise time, you’d probably put the milk on straightaway and then quickly sort out the egg mix while the milk heats up.

  1. Separate the eggs and put the yolks in a bowl
  2. If your chocolate came in a bar as opposed to chips, chop it up into small pieces
  3. Add 45g of the sugar to the eggs and whisk together
  4. Add the cornflour, flour and cocoa powder and whisk thoroughly
  5. Put the milk into a saucepan with the rest of the sugar (and vanilla essence if using) and bring to the boil
  6. Pour the milk into your egg mixture and whisk together thoroughly
  7. Return your mixture the saucepan and whisk in the chocolate
  8. Cook for a minute or two longer until there is no hint of raw flour taste in the mixture
  9. Decant your mixture into a bowl, dust it with icing sugar to stop a skin forming, cover and leave to cool; refrigerate until thoroughly cold and your eclairs are ready to be filled

The choux pastry buns

Most choux pastry recipes are pretty similar: mine mainly comes from an old Roux Brothers cookbook and therefore has a level of French authenticity. The real choice you have is how to improve the crust on the top of your eclair: I’ve sprinkled icing sugar on top, but you can use egg wash if you prefer. Some French recipes like this one from Ricardo  use a thin layer of a sweet pastry called  “craquelin”, which merges into the main eclair, caramelises and forms a characteristic cracked pattern.

  • 45g unsalted butter, plus another 5g if your milk is semi-skimmed
  • 65ml milk
  • 65ml water
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 75g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • icing sugar to dust
  1. Preheat oven to 190℃ fan.
  2. Get your baking tray ready: lie a silicone mat over it (if you have one), patterned side up, or a sheet of baking parchment otherwise
  3. Prepare a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle. A French star nozzle is ideal: this gets you a ridged eclair with more surface area to go crisp. I don’t have one of these, so I went for plain.
  4. Sift the flour
  5. Chop the butter into small pieces and put into a saucepan
  6. Add the milk, water and sugar  (you can also add ½ tsp of salt at this stage, which some recipes suggest)
  7. Bring to the boil and take off the heat
  8. Immediately add the flour to the mixture in a single go and stir to combine
  9. When properly mixed, return to the heat and cook for a short while – perhaps a minute or two – until the mixture comes away nicely from the sides of the pan. Take off the heat and leave to cool for a short while
  10. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, whisking thoroughly until you have a smooth mix. If the consistency is right, you should be able to pipe the mixture but it should hold its shape when piped. If it’s too stiff, you can add more egg. If it’s too loose, you’re in trouble, so an alternative to the “whisk in eggs one at a time” instruction is to whisk the eggs into a bowl on their own, and then add the egg mix a bit at a time until you are sure the consistency. For me, life was too short and I just added them in.
  11. Leave to cool for five minutes or so, then fill your piping bag with the mixture
  12. Pipe your eclairs into tubes of choux pastry around 8cm long – the recipe should get you a dozen of them. Make sure they are properly spaced out from each other: they will grow during baking. You really need to try to get an even cylinder here, which means piping quickly with a constant pressure: this takes practise. On the photos here, you’ll see that I have some way to go…
  13. Tidy up any stray bits of dough which are sticking out at the ends, doing your best not to destroy the structure of what’s left
  14. Bake for 20 minutes without opening the oven door
  15. Open the oven door to check: close it quickly and then continue baking for however long it needs for your eclairs to go golden brown (probably 5-10 more minutes)
  16. Remove the eclairs from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack

Filling the eclairs

  1. Take your crème pâtissière out of the fridge. Whisk in enough add double cream until you have a mixture that you can pipe easily: you want it to be rather thinner than toothpaste but not runny
  2. Transfer the crème pâtissière to a piping bag with a nozzle of around 5mm: the exact dimension doesn’t matter, but piping will be difficult if it’s too small and you’re likely to damage the choux pastry if it’s too wide.
  3. With your nozzle, make three holes in what is currently the bottom of each eclair, reasonably evenly spaced, piping filling into each until the eclair is full. Wipe off any excess and add it back to bowl – in the quantities in this recipe, you’ll have little or none to spare.

The ganache or glaze

The best tasting and easiest topping, in my view, is a simple chocolate-and-cream ganache and that’s what I’ve gone for here. But if you want that patisserie hard gloss look (or you just want something that doesn’t get quite so dramatically sticky in hot weather), there are plenty of alternatives around, involving icing sugar or glucose syrup (some American recipes specify corn syrup).

  • 75g dark chocolate
  • 75g double cream
  1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler
  2. Cool slightly
  3. Whisk in the cream and mix thoroughly
  4. Leave to cool for 10 minutes or so
  5. Spread smoothly over the eclairs with a small knife or spatula (spread them over the side with the holes you filled them from)
  6. Leave to cool for an hour or so

If you have to, refrigerate and keep them for no more than a day or two: you don’t want to leave them for much longer, because the filling soaks into the pastry and it goes soggy. Eclairs don’t  freeze, because the pastry cream splits. So really, you’re better off just eating them on the day…

Some notes and tips

Using cornflour guarantees that your pastry cream will thicken, but you risk it setting too thick to be piped easily – which is why I needed to thin it out with cream. If you use just 20g of plain flour rather than the flour/cornflour mix, you’ll need to cook the cream for much longer – perhaps as much as five minutes more – for it to thicken, but you then won’t need the cream afterwards.

Your biggest problem with eclairs is making sure that the buns dry out properly but don’t go rock hard. Of the various ways of preventing this, the one that seems to work best for me is to bake them at a relatively high temperature and have the nerve to bake them for at least 20 minutes before you open the oven to see how they’re doing. When you take them out, transfer them to a wire rack immediately: you don’t want any moisture building up on the base.

Canadian blog “the flavor bender” has an excellent post on how to troubleshoot problems with your eclairs, with a long list of what’s likely to go wrong and what you should do about it. It’s wordy and overly long, but the information is first class. Good luck!

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.7: Fatayer from Syria

For this post, we’re travelling to the Middle East – or, more accurately, to refugees from the Middle East. It turns out that when you’ve been exiled from your war-ravaged home, the one thing they can’t take from you is your food memories. Food writers Itab Azzam and Dina Mousawi have done the rounds of Syrians in exile and produced a lovely book called “Syria – recipes from home”: this recipe comes from the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut – yes, that Shatila, the site of the appalling massacre in 1982.

Out of the oven…

The recipe is for “fatayer”, which are small pasties made of yeasted dough which is rolled thinly and then shaped and pinched around a filling of your choice. There seem to be two popular shapes: I went for a simple half-moon, which gets you something like a miniature version of an Italian calzone. You’ll also see lots of images of fatayer where a hexagon of dough has been folded into a characteristic triangular pyramid: this looks complicated, so I thought I’d leave it for a second time round.

A bit of reading shows that you can fill your fatayer with pretty much anything: I tried two of the three fillings that Itab and Dina list in the recipe: a spinach-based one and a labneh-and-cherry-tomato one. 

If you can imagine miniature folded pizzas filled with your favourite yummy Middle Eastern flavours, piping hot out of the oven, you’ve pretty much got it. What’s not to like?

In what follows, by the way, the recipe in the book has been tweaked mildly to adjust seasoning, follow my usual baking drills, etc.

First, make your dough

  • 200ml milk
  • 300g plain flour, plus some for rolling
  • ½ tsp dried yeast
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tbs sunflower oil (or any other fairly neutral oil)

Put the milk into a saucepan and warm it to around 45℃, add the sugar and yeast, and wait for 5-10 minutes for it to go frothy. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl.

When the yeast mix is frothy, pour it into your bowl with the flour, add the oil and mix it well. You should get a soft dough: knead this reasonably vigorously until it goes nicely springy. Brush some oil around a bowl big enough to hold the dough when it’s risen, and put in a warm place. My favourite method is to heat an oven to 50℃ and turn if off just before putting the dough in to rise – it should take 60-90 minutes.

Now make the spinach filling…

  • One onion
  • 300g spinach
  • 4 tsp sumak
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the onion very finely, fry very slowly in a wok or other large pan bit of olive oil until it caramelises. (The pan has to be large enough to take the spinach before it’s wilted).

Add the spinach and keep frying until it’s wilted right down. Add the sumak, lemon juice and pomegranate seeds, season, and keep reducing gently until virtually all the liquid has gone. You don’t want the spinach to burn, but you don’t want any surplus liquid either.

…and the labneh filling

This is even simpler and, if I’m honest, the better of the two…

  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 2-3 baby cucumbers (or perhaps ¼of a large cucumber)
  • 5g fresh mint
  • 4 tbs labneh
  • 2 tbs olive oil

Chop the three dry ingredients as small as you can manage (or can be bothered). Mix everything together thoroughly.

Put it all together

Preheat your oven to 200℃ fan

Flour your board and roll your dough out as evenly as you can. Itab and Dina say 3mm – I’d go thinner if you can do it without breakages.

Cut out circles of dough to a size of your choice: 8cm is about the minimum. Spoon a dollop of filling into the middle of your circle, then fold the dough in half to enclose the filling. You then need to pinch it closed, taking care (a) not to let any filling seep out and (b) that you haven’t left any gaps.

The tricky part is to do this without letting liquid from the filling making it impossible for you to pinch the dough properly so that it stays closed, so two pieces of advice: (1) use a couple of teaspoons for the filling so you don’t dirty your hands and (2) don’t overfill. I ended up giving each circle a little extra roll to thin it out and give myself more margin.

Once you’ve done your first batch, you’ll have a lot of left over scraps of dough. I rolled them all into a ball, re-kneaded them somewhat and then did a second batch.

When each fatayer is made, place it on an oven tray. When they’re all made, bake them until nicely brown – everyone’s oven is different, so keep an eye on them (opening the oven won’t hurt). They took around 15 minutes in my fan oven.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.3: Spanakopita

If you’re thinking of Greece and baking, the chances are that spanakopita is at or near the top of your list. But what exactly is it? The most usual answer is “spinach and feta pie”, but the truth is, you can take pretty much any leafy vegetable, any set of alliums, your favourite dairy products to enrich it (or not, if you’re vegan) and your favourite herbs and spices: wrap that in filo pastry in a shape of your choice (bite-sized or pan-sized), bake it and you get something that’s arguably a spanakopita. There are probably as many recipes as there are cooks.

The finished article – a view of the inside…

So I’m not in any way claiming that what follows is a definitive spanakopita. But I will claim that it’s tested, it’s absolutely delicious, it’s filling, it looks good, it doesn’t take all that long to make, it’s highly tolerant of inaccurate quantities and as long as you take it out of the oven before it starts burning, you’re unlikely to ruin it. In short, whether you’re a frequent vegetarian cook or not, it’s a winner.

…and in context, ready to be cut and served!

The filo pastry and butter is a given, and unless you’re going to opt for kale or other leaves, so is the spinach (the recipes I’ve seen recommend fresh non-young spinach, but all I have available in my local supermarket is the young stuff, and it works fine). For alliums, I like a mixture of leek, shallot, onion and garlic – but you can leave out at least two of these. For flavourings, I go for nutmeg and lemon rind, which gives a real zing, plus a mix of dill, oregano and flat leaf parsley. But again, the first time I made this, I only had parsley in the house, and it was fine. For enriching the filling, I like eggs and feta cheese with a generous dose of grated Parmesan. But you get the idea: don’t feel overly bound to my choices and quantities. Lots of variations will work. So here goes…

The recipe serves four generously as a meal on its own, or would do a starter for at least 8.

Equipment

I used a square 23cm x 23cm metal baking tin, which probably better than a thick ceramic dish, but you can adapt the instructions for whatever you have.

You’ll need a brush of some sort for spreading the butter – otherwise, you’re likely to break the filo too much – it’s very fragile.

The ingredients (minus the olive oil and nutmeg, which I forgot to put in the photo)

Ingredients

  • 400g fresh spinach (frozen is said to work well, but I haven’t tried)
  • 2 leeks – around 300g, 240g after trimming
  • 1 red onion – around 120g
  • 3 cloves garlic – around 20g
  • 1 banana shallot – around 50g
  • Bunch of dill
  • Bunch of oregano
  • Bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 200g feta cheese
  • 120g Parmesan or similar hard cheese
  • Rind of 1 lemon, grated
  • Grated nutmeg and salt to taste
  • 12 sheets of filo pastry (around 150g)
  • Melted butter for spreading – I needed around 100-120g
  • Olive oil for frying

Method

Here’s the usual collection of in-process shots:

Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.

  • Boil a kettle, put the spinach in a colander and pour the boiling water over it. Leave it to wilt and drain while you prepare the rest of the filling.
  • Chop the leeks, onion, shallot and garlic and fry gently in some oil (I add a bit of salt at this stage). Meanwhile, chop your herbs: when the mixture has gone transparent, add the chopped herbs and stir well so that everything is nicely blended. Keep frying gently for a few minutes until it’s all soft and beginning to go golden: don’t let it go dark brown. Remove from heat.
  • Crumble the feta into a large bowl, add the grated parmesan, beaten egg, lemon rind and nutmeg and mix thoroughly. Make sure the leek and onion mix is no hotter than lukewarm – you don’t want it to scramble the eggs – then combine it with the mixture. Now squeeze some water out of the spinach, add this, and stir/chop vigorously with a spoon or spatula  so that the filling is thoroughly blended – you don’t want lumps of cheese or lumps of pure spinach.
  • Spread a layer of melted butter over your oven dish or tin. Open your packet of filo and work quickly (the stuff dries out): spread two pieces across the bottom of the tin so that they hang over the sides, brush melted butter over the area lining the bottom and sides the tin now repeat this but going the opposite way. When you’ve done this, your square tin will have filo draped over each of its four sides. Repeat this twice, so you’re using 12 sheets of filo in total.
  • Pour your filling into the pastry-lined tin and even it out into a single, thick layer reaching the corners.
  • Take the overhanging edges of the last pair of pieces of filo you put in, wrap them back over the dish, and brush them with melted butter. Repeat for the remaining five pairs. Make sure you have enough butter left to give the top a good brushing: that’s what will make the pie go gold.
  • Bake for around 30-40 minutes, until a deep golden colour.

You can serve it straight out of the oven, cold for a picnic, or anywhere in between.