Friday, November 27, 2020

FILO PASTRY PIZZA PIE

I must admit, I have a soft spot for pies, both sweet and savoury. I find them quite comforting and almost nostalgic. Other than that, they usually come together rather quickly, and you can enjoy them in an hour or so, making them perfect for a busy weekday meal.
This is one of the savoury pies I have been making for over 15 years, and next to my Cottage cheese hand pies, a firm family favourite. Rich, golden, crispy, and wonderfully hearty, with plenty of flaky Filo layers, lots of smoked ham, and an abundance of cheese, this is a true colder weather classic.
Ruffled pastry sheets will make the pie billowy and give it a bit more texture, so do make sure they are nicely ruffled and that the cheese is evenly distributed.
Speaking of cheese, be cautious with the amount of salt, and take into consideration how salty the cheese and ham are. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the tomato sauce before preparing the pie; and as always, start with less seasoning, because you can always add more.
It will look incredibly tempting as soon as it comes out of the oven, but do let it rest for a few minutes; it will be easier to slice and enjoy. Serve it with some additional pizza sauce of your choice, a thick yoghurt dip, or if you like spicy food, with some hot sauce and fresh soured cream.


Ingredients
For the olive oil dressing
100 millilitres light olive oil
200 millilitres water
For the tomato sauce
250 grams tomato passata
10 grams tomato paste
15 millilitres extra virgin olive oil
15 grams brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 heaping teaspoon dried oregano
For the filling
300 grams smoked ham, minced
300 grams Mozzarella, shredded
100 grams Gouda, shredded
16 Filo pastry sheets, 500 grams

Preparation
Start by making the tomato sauce. Add the tomato passata into a medium bowl, add in the tomato paste, and whisk it really well. Add in the rest of the sauce ingredients, and mix until combined. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if needed, by adding a bit more salt or sugar.
For the dressing, add both the water and the oil into a saucepan, and place it over high heat. Let it come to a rolling boil, and remove from the heat.
To make the layered pie, start by brushing the bottom and sides of a large round baking pan (30 cm in diameter) with the olive oil and water mixture. This will prevent the pie from sticking to the pan, while still having very crispy bottom and sides. Place four filo sheets in a cross manner onto the baking sheet, covering the bottom completely, and letting the top half of the sheets hang over the sides of the pan. This will be used later to be folded over and cover the top of the pie.
Generously drizzle the olive oil dressing over the filo sheets, or brush using a pastry brush, and then spread one fourth of the tomato sauce evenly all over it. Add one fourth of the ham and cheese filling, spreading it as evenly as you can.
Take four Filo sheets and either tear them up with your hands or chop them up roughly with a sharp knife, and add the shreds on top of the filling. Ruffle them as you place them onto the filling to create more texture. Again, generously drizzle with the olive oil dressing, and spread another fourth of the tomato sauce on top. This can also be done by putting the sauce into a squeeze bottle, if that is easier to handle. Place another fourth of the ham and cheese filling.
Repeat this two more times, until you use up all of the Filo pastry, all of the tomato sauce, and all of the filling. The final layer will be the ham and cheese. Gently fold over the pastry that was hanging from the sides of the pan, to completely cover the filling, and then generously brush it with the dressing. Bake the pie immediately, in a preheated oven, at 220°C, for about 20-25 minutes, or until baked through and crispy. Remove from the oven and let it cool down slightly, then slice into four generous pieces, and serve immediately. Yields 4 servings.

Friday, November 20, 2020

NO-KNEAD PUMPKIN SEED FLOUR BREAD

One of the many reasons I love no-knead breads is because of how forgiving, yet rewarding, they are. They are incredibly handy for beginners in baking, too, as they do not require much effort.
As kneading can be a bit daunting when people immerse themselves into working with yeast breads for the first time, these are especially useful, because they only need to be vigorously stirred. It takes just a few hours from start to finish, and the little loaf is ready to be shared and enjoyed.
This particular emerald beauty has an unexpected but welcome addition of pumpkin seed flour, giving it a slightly nutty, and incredibly rich flavour, as well as a gorgeous colour. It also gives a bit of fat to the loaf, since pumpkin seed is naturally higher in fat.
The reason why I mention the fat content is that lean breads have a tendency to become stale rather quickly, so adding a bit of fat helps them remain fresh for longer. My choice is always sunflower oil, for its neutral flavour, but light olive oil works just as well, of course.
This loaf holds its shape quite well, but if you wish for it to have an old-fashioned boule shape, you can most certainly bake it in a small round pan. To me, it is beautiful just as it is; perfect for serving with soups and stews, and also lightly toasted and served with a tangy jam, such as apricot or apple.


Ingredients
200 grams plain flour
50 grams pumpkin seed flour
10 grams granulated sugar
5 grams salt
170 millilitres lukewarm water
25 grams fresh yeast
30 millilitres vegetable oil

Preparation
Crumble the fresh yeast into a small bowl, add in the water and sugar, whisk well, and let the yeast bubble up and activate. Sift both flours into a large bowl, add the salt, and whisk well. Once the yeast is fragrant and dissolved, make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, and add it in, along with the oil. Vigorously stir with a wooden spoon until a very soft dough forms. It will look scraggly, but that is fine. Once ready, cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm spot for about an hour, up to an hour and a half, until it doubles in size.
When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a large baking sheet lined with baking parchment. It will be soft, but using a bit of flour, it is possible to be shaped into a loaf. It does not have to be perfectly round. Let it rise for another 20 minutes or so, while the oven is preheating, and then bake it at 220°C, for about 20-25 minutes, checking often after 20 minutes, so it does not burn. Once baked, generously mist the surface with cold water. This will make it very soft and slightly chewy once cooled. Let it cool slightly, and as soon as you are comfortable handling it, tear it into wedges, and serve. Yields 4 generous servings.

Friday, November 13, 2020

OLD-FASHIONED WALNUT CAKE

My love for old-fashioned desserts is very well known by now. I truly find their simplicity inspiring, as they show what wonderful sweets can be prepared with a handful of humble ingredients, a few bowls, and a whisk. I especially enjoy old-fashioned cakes in colder weather, even more so towards the end of the year. They evoke fond memories of using a hand walnut mill, the smell of scalding milk and vanilla, the joy of watching a cake being put together.
The charm of this simple, yet incredibly wholesome cake lays in its thin layers and abundant walnut filling. It is filled while still warm, allowing the filling to be absorbed into some of the cake layers. A true walnut symphony.
Speaking of its thin layers, they are best baked separately, but they can be baked in four tins, and then levelled and split in half. However you decide to bake, my seasoned advice would be to divide the batter by weight between the tins, as that will ensure they bake evenly, and meld into the filling when assembled.
Serve this little beauty very well chilled, after at least a night in the refrigerator, with plenty of freshly brewed strong coffee, and good company.


Ingredients
For the cake layers
350 grams plain flour
50 grams cornflour
200 grams granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
15 grams baking powder
425 millilitres lukewarm water
100 millilitres vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
For the walnut filling
400 grams toasted walnuts, ground
200 grams granulated sugar
200 millilitres whole milk
250 grams unsalted butter, diced
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste

Preparation
Start by making the cake layers. Sift the flour and the cornflour into a large bowl, tip in the sugar, salt, and the baking powder, and whisk very well. Make a well in the centre and pour in the water, oil, and the vanilla, and whisk until combined. The batter will resemble pancake batter in consistency. Lightly butter eight small round cake pans (15 cm in diameter), and line their bottoms and sides with baking parchment. Divide the batter equally among them, and bake, in a preheated oven, at 200°C, for about 8-10 minutes. They will remain light in colour, but be springy when lightly touched. Of course, check with a toothpick, to make sure they are baked, but not dry. Let them cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then turn them out to a large wire rack to continue cooling.
When the cake layers are almost cool to the touch, start making the filling. Add the ground walnuts into a large bowl, add in the sugar, and mix really well. Pour the milk into a deep saucepan, preferably with a heavy bottom, and add in the diced butter. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat, and whisk constantly until all of the butter melts. Let the mixture just barely come to a boil, remove from the heat, and add in the vanilla. Whisk and pour all over the walnuts. Mix gently until all of the walnuts are combined with the milk, and then let the batter stand until it cools down. It will be runny when it is hot, but it will thicken up as it cools.
When the filling is lukewarm, start assembling the cake. Level the cake layers if needed, and place the first one on the cake platter. Place a cake ring around it, add a tall sheet of acetate, and tighten the ring so it stays in place. Divide the filling into seven parts by weight. Add the first part of the filling over the cake layer, level it gently, and place another cake layer on top. Continue stacking the cake in this fashion, until all of the layers and filling are used up. Let the cake stand at room temperature for about two more hours, so the cake layers nicely absorb a portion of the filling, and then place it in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. Serve in thin slices, with strong coffee. Yields 20 servings.

Friday, November 06, 2020

HOMEMADE RUBY HOT CHOCOLATE

The moment I first tried ruby chocolate, I fell in love. I have always loved berry desserts, and it seemed like the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness. I love using it in desserts, it adds such a pleasant brightness no matter if it is used as a filling, frosting, or even a light drizzle, as the final addition.
With chilly mornings being more and more frequent, and the holidays approaching, comfort treats are a must. And what better treat than a mug of homemade hot chocolate, along a buttery croissant, and a few moments of peace and quiet away from the busy world.
I have spoken about the difference in hot chocolate textures before, and even though I do love cioccolata calda, sometimes a slightly thinner consistency is just what is needed. Especially for dunking the little end bit of the croissant.
And although I usually top hot chocolate with lots of cream and even more chocolate, this one, however, I love to serve plain, unadorned, letting the sheer beauty of ruby chocolate shine. Feel free to add more cream if you wish, of course, comfort food is always about what makes us feel the best.


Ingredients
1 litre whole milk
30 grams cornflour
20 grams light brown sugar
200 grams ruby chocolate
1 tablespoon Chambord, optional
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Preparation
Start by chopping up the ruby chocolate bar into thin shards, for easier melting. Even if you are using callets, do cut them into smaller pieces, as they will melt quicker, allowing you to serve the hot chocolate almost immediately. Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, and pour in 750 millilitres of milk. Let it slowly heat up and come to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the reserved milk, cornflour, sugar, and vanilla. They should form a somewhat thin batter, which is fine.
Once the milk starts gently boiling, add in the cornflour batter, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2-3 minutes. It will resemble a runny custard, and it will make an amazing base for the hot chocolate. Once thickened, remove it from the heat, and immediately add in the chopped up ruby chocolate. Gently mix until it is almost completely melted, add in the Chambord, if using, and whisk vigorously until everything becomes smooth and blended, and tiny bubbles appear on the surface. Serve it hot, with some freshly whipped double cream. Yields 4 rich servings.

Friday, October 30, 2020

CHERRY WINE CARAMEL CHOCOLATE CAKE

Aromatic cherry wine, a perfect blend of sweetness and tartness, is an amazing addition to desserts. Especially when it is a deeply chocolate fudge cake, paired with dark chocolate ganache filling, and a mousse-like chocolate frosting.
If you ask me, chocolate cakes will always rule over celebration desserts. There is something equally comforting and exhilarating in a tall chocolate cake, especially if it has many layers that meld and disappear into one another. And this cake is just that; with its seven layers of pure chocolate, and a fine amount of lush cherry wine caramel on top.
It is pure magic to witness the glossy blend of wine and sugar, swirling and cooking down into a sticky, sweet sauce. There is plenty of caramel for lavishly topping the fudgy, deeply chocolate layers, and for drizzling each of the rich cake slices once they are on the dessert plates, so do not be modest when embellishing.
As all of my cakes are, this one is quite effortless to make, yet very rewarding. The only part that requires a bit of time is the cherry wine caramel, but it is well worthwhile.
On a final note, I must say, this cake is simply amazing when slightly frozen. I do say that for many of my creations, but this one simply melts on each bite, especially when served with a cup of espresso.


Ingredients
For the chocolate fudge cake
225 grams plain flour
70 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
120 grams granulated sugar
120 grams dark brown sugar
300 millilitres whole milk
60 grams buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons apple cider vinegar
120 millilitres vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
For the double chocolate ganache filling
300 grams dark cooking chocolate (60% cocoa solids)
300 millilitres double cream
30 grams softened butter
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
a pinch of salt
For the cherry wine caramel sauce
500 millilitres cherry wine
200 grams light brown sugar
a pinch of salt
For the decoration
150 millilitres double cream
15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
15 grams icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste


Preparation
Start by making the cherry wine caramel. Pour the wine into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, tip in the sugar, and gently swirl the pan, in case there is some sugar left on the sides of it. Place it over medium-high heat and let it come to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium, and let it simmer gently for about 40 minutes, or until reduced to a third of the volume. Remove from the heat, add a pinch of salt, and whisk well. Set it aside to cool down and thicken up.
To make the chocolate cakes, sift the flour into a large bowl, sift in the dark cocoa powder, and add in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk briefly and add in the sugars. Whisk vigorously, and pour all of the wet ingredients, as well as the vanilla bean paste. Whisk until blended, and immediately divide between four small round cake tins (15 cm) lined with baking parchment. Bake the cake layers immediately, in an oven preheated to 180°C, for about 15 minutes. Check them even before the 15-minute mark, to make sure they are not overbaked. Take them out of the oven, let them cool in the tins for about 20 minutes, and then turn them out onto a large wire rack, to cool completely.


To make the ganache, chop up the dark chocolate, and put it in a large bowl. Pour the double cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and place it over medium high. When the cream is just about to boil, remove it from the heat and pour it over the chocolate. Let it stand for about a minute, add in the butter and vanilla, and vigorously mix with a spatula until blended. Tap the bowl on the work surface a few times, tightly cover the top with cling film, and let it cool down to room temperature, so it becomes thick, but still easily spreadable.
To assemble the cake, level the cake layers if needed, and place the first one onto a serving platter. Place a cake ring around it, line it with a tall strip of acetate, and close the ring. Reserve a third of the cherry wine caramel for later. Take two heaping tablespoons of the caramel and drizzle it generously all over the first cake layer. No need to spread it, just drizzle it haphazardly. Carefully spread a third of the dark chocolate ganache on top of it, and top it with the second cake layer. Repeat the process until all of the cake and ganache is used up. Place the cake in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
To make the frosting, whip up the double cream with the addition of cocoa powder, icing sugar, and vanilla, until stiff peaks form. Remove the cake from the refrigerator, carefully remove the cake ring and the acetate, and spread the frosting all over it. Drizzle with some of the reserved caramel, and place it back into the refrigerator until serving. Yields 20 servings.