Tag: Recipe

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.

Around the world in 80 bakes, no.2: Sachertorte

The Austrians, particularly the Viennese, are serious about cake and serious about chocolate. And there’s no debate as to what is the baked item most emblematic of Vienna: it’s the apricot-laced dark chocolate cake created in 1832 by Franz Sacher and known to the world as Sachertorte (or, in the case of my family, “Sam’s birthday cake”, which it has been for several years now).

There are plenty of recipes for Sachertorte around, but the basics are common to all of them: a mixture of butter, sugar, flour, egg yolks and melted dark chocolate, folded into a meringue made with the egg whites; the baked cake is cut into layers, spread with apricot jam and topped with a chocolate icing. The variations are in the detail – the choice of icing sugar or caster sugar for the cake mix, or additions like ground almonds, vanilla, rum or baking powder. For the icing, Austrian recipes tend to favour a combination of sugar syrup and chocolate, while English ones are more likely to use a ganache made with cream.

The Hotel Sacher claims to guard the original recipe jealously, but in my honest opinion, it’s now selling the stuff to tourists in such volume that it doesn’t even make the best Sachertorte any more. Opinions differ, but my Austrian colleague Elisabeth (who is a serious baker herself as well as having an encyclopaedic knowledge of Viennese cafés) recommends Café Sperl, near the Theater an der Wien, or Café Diglas, which has four locations around the city.

My personal set of preferences, as shown in the recipe below, is to (1) follow the Austrians in using icing sugar for the cake mix, (2) use a teaspoon of baking powder to help the rise, (3) add some vanilla essence, (4) use the syrup method for the icing, (5) take the trouble to slice off the top dome of the cake to create a perfect cylinder. One Austrian tradition I don’t follow is to serve Sachertorte with whipped cream, because no-one in my family likes it. But you will undoubtedly come up with your own set of likes and dislikes.

By the way, although the instructions I’ve given are reasonably precise, don’t be intimidated, because it’s a fairly forgiving recipe. As long as you have good dark chocolate and apricot jam, your result is likely to taste just fine, even if it isn’t the last word in elegance or perfect texture.

Credits: my recipe started life as the one in the American classic “The Joy of Cooking” by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. Since then, it has morphed and has acquired its icing recipe from austria.info.

Cook with a greased, 8-9 inch, removable-rim pan. Serves 8, generously.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 150g dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa solids)
  • 120g icing sugar
  • 30g granulated sugar
  • 170g butter, softened
  • 100g plain flour
  • 6 eggs
  • Apricot compote, or apricot jam mixed with the juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • vanilla essence or vanilla paste to taste (different brands are so different in strength that I can’t give an amount)

Icing

  • 150g dark chocolate (70-80% cocoa solids)
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 120g water

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Grease the sides of the pan with butter and line the bottom with baking paper or parchment.
  • Separate the eggs into yolks and whites
  • Melt 150g of the chocolate in a double boiler. Then leave it to cool.
  • Cream the icing sugar and the butter until the mixture is fluffy.
  • Beat in the egg yolks gradually until the mixture is light in colour.
  • Add the melted cooled chocolate.
  • Sift the flour and add it gradually. Add the baking powder and mix everything thoroughly.
  • Beat the egg whites until they are beginning to be stiff. Add the 30g of granulated sugar and beat on maximum speed until stiff but not dry.
  • Fold the resulting meringue mix into the cake mixture, about a quarter first, then the rest.
  • Bake the mixture in the pan for 50 to 60 minutes.
  • Remove and cool on a rack.
  • Optionally, slice the top dome from the cake and set aside. Slice the remaining cake in half. Spread the jam on the bottom half and reassemble (optionally, spread jam on the top of the cake also).

Icing

  • Put water and sugar into a pan, heat until you have a thick syrup
  • Add the chocolate, and mix vigorously until smooth
  • Leave to cool for a few minutes (but don’t allow it to set)
  • Spread over the cake
  • Cool

Notes

Really, you want a higher and narrower tin than my one, so bear this in mind when looking at the photos.

If your butter isn’t soft, cut it small cubes and leave it at room temperature for a bit (see photo)

The part of the recipe worth taking trouble is the part with the egg white. When you fold the first bit of meringue into the mix, be robust enough to make sure that it’s fully blended, at the expense of losing some of the air in the meringue. The result will be softer and easier to fold for your second phase, when you’re trying to protect that fluffiness.

If you’ve sliced off the top of the cake to get that perfect cylinder and/or to allow an extra apricot layer, the offcuts make a magic cheesecake base when blitzed with some butter.

The home made jam I’ve had from an apricot-growing area in Austria has much more fruit and less sugar than apricot jam that I can buy in the UK: the nearest I’ve found here is Bonne Maman apricot compote. If you’re using standard apricot jam, you will need some lemon juice to thin it out or it won’t spread properly (some recipes suggest heating the jam).

The reason I’ve gone off using a cream-based ganache is that it never really stays set at room temperature and the cake never tastes as good when chilled. And although I own a sugar thermometer, I haven’t given a temperature for the syrup for the icing because I’m not convinced I’ve got it right yet. Any recommendations welcome!