Baking challenge: 24 petit four

This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the showstopper challenge for week two of series two: make 24 miniature sweet tarts.

I was keen to cap off the third and final part of my series two pastry week challenge, but then I stalled. And stalled, and stalled, and stalled. I kept telling myself that it was because plans to see people kept being cancelled or postponed and I didn’t want to have lots of sweet things lying around at home to eat when feeling undisciplined (which is basically all the time). However, I think the length of time it took for me to get around to making these indicates that, although I love pastry work, my heart really wasn’t in making dozens of shop-window-perfect mini tartlets around the busy Christmas period. Further, I chose a really simple recipe for speculoos tarts that probably wouldn’t have won me any kudos were I taking part in the national baking competition itself.

Simple, however, can be good, and I had some of the most positive responses to these tartlets that I have ever had towards my baking. In fact, my friend Tina, who sampled them, immediately went shopping with me to buy the necessary ingredients and borrowed my petit four tins to make them for her boyfriend’s family, who she was staying with over Christmas. Eaten warm, these tartlets have a soft, heartwarming, spicey centre; eaten cold, they are like homely, brown-sugar meringues, with a crunchy, shiny texture.

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Baking challenge: tarte au citron

<trite insertion about being busy, not spending time baking or writing or following up on the challenge. True, but trite nonetheless> And happy new year! I think I made this tart sometime in October or November, so as you can tell I really am quite behind.

Lemon desserts are delicious, and tarte au citron must be the most delicious of all, irresistibly combining sharp citrus and cream (as well as – ideally – crisp, buttery pastry). I find most tartes au citron irresistible yet, in their coffee-shop incarnation, often disappointing: sweet, with glazed pastry baked to the colour of mahogany and the texture of terracotta. Sad times. Yet I had never made a tarte au citron, despite this – mainly because my boyfriend doesn’t enjoy them, meaning I would end up eating it all. I made this technical challenge bake (Mary Berry’s choice for series two, episode two…gosh, I have a way to go yet) when some friends came round, but still ended up eating most of it: it was just so irresistibly zesty and fresh, with that melting texture I just wanted to experience over and over again.

However wonderful the finished product, it can’t be denied that Mary Berry’s instructions were fussy and impractical, at least for me. I tried to follow her meticulously laid-out instructions for rolling out the pastry on the base of the tin, but I found this method fussy and tedious, and it just didn’t work for me – the pastry kept cracking on the hard edge of the tin base and breaking off. In the end I balled up the pastry in frustration, rolled it out again and patted it smooth, and lined the tin in the normal way (i.e. roll out and drape in the tin). The instructions below are therefore modified to reflect this. This glitch aside, this lemon tart is absolutely stunning: very simple, very sensible (no need to chuck or set aside five egg whites) and extremely delicious.

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

These little tartlets were for the second half of the pastry showstopper for the Great British Bake-Off baking challenge I have imposed upon myself. I’m doubly pleased I divided up the entry for this now that I see how long this one has turned out to be.

I made the tartlets about a week after the successful pastry canapes. The requirement was to make three different types of miniature tartlets: mine were raspberry-chocolate ganache tartlets, chocolate and orange-almond tartlets, and a lemon curd. I was inspired to make the chocolate-orange tartlets, with an orange-flavoured almond filling, owing to a log of almond paste sitting in my cupboard which I had bought from Scandinavian Kitchen on a whim when picking up some fresh yeast. I used the same batch of chocolate pastry, from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, for both the chocolate-orange tartlets (the pastry introducing the chocolate element) and the raspberry chocolate ganache tartlets.

The raspberry truffle tartlets were very rich, but the raspberry extract (you could also use raspberry liqueur if you prefer or extract isn’t available) and a sprinkling of freeze-dried raspberries, which I bought from Waitrose (so they are fairly easily available, along with freeze-dried strawberries and mango if you fancy that too), cut through the rich filling by bringing some much-needed tartness to the mix.

The third tartlet was perhaps the simplest, just filled with a low-fat (homemade) lemon curd and decorated with blueberries and more freeze-dried raspberries. The curd, made with a minimal amount of sugar, was tart and delicate. Personally I think I preferred them without fruit to cut through the lemon taste and silky texture, but it did make them look very pretty. I used a slightly sweetened shortcrust but as I could barely taste the sugar, I would recommend leaving it out if you like and substituting an equal weight of flour (to get half weight of fat to flour). I did have about three leftover shells extra which I just snacked on. Whether you have extra pastry left over or not will depend on the size of your tartlet tins – mine were very small indeed, true petit four tins.

My favourite was the lemon curd tartlets, my boyfriend like the chocolate-orange ones best and people at work very much enjoyed the raspberry chocolate ones – so there was something for everyone in the mix there!

Making all those tiny tartlets was a bit of a pain because, for the chocolate raspberry and lemon curd tartlets the tins had to be chilled before blind-baking, and this was a bit of a faff because I only had twelve tins of each of the petit four tins I used and this required me to chill, blind bake, line with pastry, chill etc in batches, so it took a very long time. The chocolate-orange tartlets were maybe the easiest to actually make, therefore, because the pastry didn’t require blind baking.

Incidentally, has anyone been watching The White Queen? I have been catching up and it is as implausible as the reviews all suggest. Everyone is basically a 21st century person in fancy dress, with effectively modern attitudes towards love, marriage and child-rearing; the characters are inconsistent (especially the weepy Warwick daughters); and the actors are forced to spout some truly diabolical dialogue, mostly about generating issue. Also, there is a supernatural element in the show which is, I think, meant to give modern audiences the impression that the women actually have more autonomy and power than they actually wield (answer: not much – it’s all about the baby-making, until they’re too old to bear children, after which they’re a bit more powerful). However, it’s not very intellectually taxing, so I can just about manage it. Also, it was shot in Belgium because Belgium is pretty and more medieval-looking than Britain, which is cool – there are a few Belgian actors and actresses in it – speaking English! Something pretty rare for most Flemish thesps.

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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.

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