Baking challenge: petit four and mini pastry challenge (Part I)

Running a bit behind on the updating-the-baking-challenge front – I baked the following challenge when the weather was still cool and miserable and when making puff pastry was conceivable. Right now, Andy Murray¬† won Wimbledon (!!! – also, obligatory reference) a few days ago and we’re in the midst of the hottest, sunniest and driest days of the year (happy days), meaning any butter would puddle in slithery pools (appetising) rather than staying cold and hard and providing structure to the pastry. Still, onwards: this was the showstopper challenge for the ‘pastry’ week of series one of the Great British Bake-Off, and I was slightly nervous.

I have made cakes before, obviously, and biscuits and pastry. But I had never made any version of puff pastry before, and the prospect was a little scary, especially as I was planning to make the canapes for a book club meeting: I didn’t want them to be a greasy and unpuffy mess. The directions for the challenge were to make pastry canapes: three different savoury rough puff pastries and three different little sweet tarts (split across two posts because otherwise it would be way too long and tedious). I’m not superwoman so I had to split the challenge into sweet and savoury, making the savoury offerings first (blog imitates life, I guess!).

I used Michel Roux Snr’s recipe for rough puff from his Pastry book (I added an extra turn, and next time I want to try Paul’s book turn), which uses a proportion of 1:1 butter to flour; other rough-puff recipes I looked at used 50% of butter to flour or even used a mix of butter and white vegetable fat. I’m quite interested in trying that nexttime, but maybe the high quantity of butter was what made the puffs so crisp, light, flaky and wonderful to eat. Really, they were great; people only stopped eating them when I mentioned the butter to flour ratio. My three savoury concoctions were za’atar palmiers, olive straws (from Michel Roux’s book, which I obviously highly recommend!) and ad hoc caramelised red onion tartlets, which were the most popular (they were all made from one batch of pastry as I wasn’t about to make more than one batch, and there was plenty to go round). I’ve tried to give an approximation of the recipe below but really I just winged it on this one.

One of my friends referred to the za’atar palmiers as ‘moustaches’ which I thought was a beautiful description and captured the look of the palmiers. Given the popularity of novelty moustache items, these could be an interesting addition to the selection, or a suitable offering at a party with a vintage feel. I was most pleased with them because the appearance was really sharp and tight and honestly, for my first attempt at palmiers and at puff pastry, I thought they would be much more rough-and-ready looking. Instead they were impressive. Ditto with the olive straws, although they weren’t as popular as the moustaches or onion tarts.

Continue reading “Baking challenge: petit four and mini pastry challenge (Part I)”

Baking challenge: classic Cornish(-style) pasty

Cornish pasties are a pastry filled with raw beef, swede, potato and onion – no carrot. The filling steams inside the pasty while the pastry bakes. They are a plain, unfancy kind of food, very filling, and stretch out a bit of meat, which is appropriate given their associations with working-class food (although Henry VIII ate them in some form or another). Of course Cornish pasties are now protected by the European Commission; to be called a ‘Cornish’ pasty they must be prepared in Cornwall (though not necessarily baked there – and the ingredients do not have to come from Cornwall, making the distinction somewhat academic in my opinion – more a boost to pasty factories than Cornish producers and bakers. But what do I know?).

Cornish pasties were also the technical challenge for the ‘pastry’ episode of GBBO. I’ve made Nigella’s recipe before, which pre-cooks the filling. The trick to this recipe, obviously, is to cut the pieces of vegetable and meat rather small and very evenly so they all cook through at the same rate. As they were prepared in London they were, therefore, legally Cornish-style pasties. The recipe in the Great british Baking book differed from Paul Hollywood’s recipe on the BBC website; I used the website recipe.

My pasties obviously looked messy and the crimping was less than perfect. I rolled the pastry out on a silicone pastry mat to ensure I rolled each one out to the correct size each time (very unlike me to be so precise, but I guess it’s part of the baking learning experience), which left faint indentation marks from the guidelines in the raw pastry. They faded once baked, however, so no reservations about using such a mat are necessary.

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Baking challenge: savoury (at last) beef pie

I have moved into the penultimate episode of the first series of the Great British Bake-off, and the great thing about Pastry week was the opportunity to make savoury items. Usually, when I’m doing a challenge, I have to make sure I have people coming round to polish off an excess of sweet goods. With this one – although I did serve it up when I had a friend round – it could just be served up for an ordinary dinner. Very convenient.

I actually made up the very same recipe for the signature bake that Ruth Clemens served up. This pastry episode was quite a funny one, both in the amusing and raised-eyebrow sense – Ruth made some comments which were quite controversial in various GBBO online fora (yeah, they exist), and there was some pointed editing going on to imply a Miranda-Ruth rivalry. Still, also served up by Ruth was a really cracking-looking beef pie, which even Paul Hollywood complimented despite being initially sceptical for its lack of sophistication. The recipe I took from The Great British Book of Baking, which I own because of a 2 for ¬£10.00 deal at WH Smith’s (it’s a little disappointing in not having a huge amount of recipes from the show).

The pie was surprisingly small and I was sceptical that it would actually serve four as stated in the recipe, a point which was agreed upon by my guinea pigs (there were three of us). The verdict was ‘might serve four if two of them are under eight’. I also thought there was a smidgen too much pastry for the recipe, and it was a little thick when I used it all. Although by the end of the suggested baking time the pastry was nicely browned and certainly looked cooked, it was actually a little underbaked in its centre at the bottom and the top, so I’d recommend another couple of minutes in the oven. I couldn’t remove cleanish slices from the pie but can’t remember if that was actually achieved in the show.

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