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Posts Tagged ‘pastry’

strawberry-rhubarb crumble pie

In baking, desserts, spring on 2 November, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Things have been pretty quiet around here, I know. Somehow I’ve gone from welcoming the gentle glow of vernal sun (and the accompanying bare-legs excitement) to being swept up in the full madwoman whirlwind of spring, that violent spring gale that wrecks all the plants in the garden yet still manages to toss me home at the end of the day*.

And now it’s November, and strawberries have come down in price, the days are long and the air is warm. But. I swam in the sea on Saturday (okay, so it was in sunny Gisborne, and the water was still cold, but still), got a sunburn and some deep-crimson cherry tomatoes to match. Despite the frequent moody-teenager squalls that seem to spring upon us without warning, it’s starting to feel like we can almost touch summer.

I love pies at any time of year but it’s really late spring and summertime that I love them the best: buttery crusts bursting with the ripe colours and bright juices of berries and stonefruit. And what better way to usher in the pies of summer than with the first fresh fruits of spring?

The first time I tasted this strawberry-rhubarb combination was as a kid at some suburban street party or maybe a potluck dinner somewhere in my neighbourhood, in the fading late-evening light at the end of May or early June. Grass was green and high, fireflies were just about starting to blink, someone was passing around a baking dish full of strawberry-rhubarb crumble. I remember first trying to pick out the rhubarb – unfamiliar to me then, even though it grew in our garden – then eventually realising it all tasted too good to leave behind, scraping the last pink blush of fruit off the paper plate, and seeking out seconds. Too good.

This pie, I guess, is a sort of homage to those long nights of late spring, full of anticipation for the summer ahead. Also I just really like strawberries and rhubarb together, and I really like pies, and my heart goes a little bit fluttery at the mention of crumble topping.

*literally – got tossed off my bike today and then nearly swept off my feet. Serious business, this wind.

STRAWBERRY-RHUBARB CRUMBLE PIE

For the crust:
(I’ve adapted this recipe to include wholemeal flour, just because that’s what I had at the time. Feel free to play around with flour ratios/combinations or just make the original – it’s become my go-to pie crust.)

1 1/8c flour (I used half white, half wholemeal)
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 c butter
(roughly 110g), chilled and chopped into little pieces
3-4 tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Rub in the butter between finger and thumb until it’s mixed into the flour and forms coarse crumbly pea-sized clumps. Sprinkle some of the ice water over the mixture and combine, adding more water or flour as needed until the dough comes together nicely when you try to form it into a ball. Flatten, wrap in plastic wrap, chill for a bit. 30 minutes or so should be good.

Meanwhile, get the filling ready:

Chop up 1 bunch (roughly 300g) rhubarb and halve about 300g strawberries. Place in a medium to large bowl and toss with a couple tablespoonsful of sugar and a teaspoon or so of cornflour. Let it macerate while you prepare the crust:

Blind bake the crust:

Heat the oven to 200C.

Roll out the chilled pie-crust dough so that it’s big enough to drape into a pie dish and have little edge pieces flopping over the side. Roll over and pinch together the excess bits of pastry to make a nice crust. If it’s a bit uneven just press it all down with the tines of a fork and call it rustic.

Prick some holes in the dough with a fork. Line with baking paper and some dried beans and blind bake for about 10-12 minutes or until it’s just starting to turn golden. Remove and let cool for a few minutes.

Prepare the crumble topping:

Using your fingertips or a food processor, mix together 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 60g butter (chopped up into little pieces makes this easier) until the mixture forms coarse crumbs.

And finally:

Pour the fruit mixture into the pie shell and top with the crumble topping. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the fruit mixture is bubbling up beneath the bits of crumble. You may want to check that the crust isn’t burning – if it’s starting to get rather brown, cover with bits of foil.

Serve lovingly, with yoghurt, cream or – my favourite – a good-quality vanilla ice cream.

mandarin custard tarts with poached rhubarb

In baking, desserts, early spring, winter on 21 September, 2011 at 11:10 pm

There’s no doubt that spring is here, with asparagus and strawberries having made their (pricey but triumphant) debut, sudden downpours and that crazy spring wind kicking up again and sprouting rocket and lettuces taking over the pots on my balcony. And I can’t quite get my head around the fact that daylight savings time is starting again this weekend.

But strawberries are still madly expensive and it’s not quite time yet for other, more exciting fruits. Luckily there’s still plenty of citrus to fall back on, and I’ve been furiously eating all the oranges, grapefruits and mandarins I can get my hands on.

These are the fruits that see me through winter. When I lived in Japan, mandarins (known there as mikan) were my constant companion all winter long; I saw countless evenings turn into nights just sitting in the living room, legs tucked into kotatsu*, drinking hot green tea and peeling mikan after mikan, watching TV or writing letters to friends back home.**

On Sunday, at the market, after breakfasting on cheesecake and so many oysters, I ventured out looking for something fresh and exciting and ended up with the same things I’ve been eating for the last couple months: citrus and rhubarb. But what glorious Gisborne mandarins they were: bright and orange and bursting with cheer. And the rhubarb –  those stalks so robust and fresh-looking with their almost-fluorescent-pink ends – couldn’t pass it up either.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them for ages after I got home until I got to thinking about spring, and summer, and that got me thinking about the custard tarts my friend Rob used to make for summertime picnics and flat dinners and so on.***

His were filled with a thick, creamy vanilla-seed-studded custard, and topped with berries or cherries or whatever summer fruit was available. They were beautiful: cool, creamy, bursting with fruit juices, perfect for an evening dinner outdoors. But I wanted something a little bit more grounded, a little less fleeting than the bursting berries and cold-creamy custard of summer.

So in a tribute to winter fruits, and with a nod towards the chilled fruit-and-custard desserts of the warmer months, I settled on making these baked mandarin custard tarts, topped with poached rhubarb and bits of mandarin.

I couldn’t quite find the recipe I was imagining in my head, so the custard recipe is sort of cobbled together from a couple recipes in past issues of Cuisine (one of them, for scented custard tarts, is here, and the other, for a grapefruit tart, is here) and from tinkering around in the kitchen until I got the custard filling right.

The recipe might seem complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward. There are just several steps involved, and some assembly. The way I go about it is as follows:

1. Making the pastry.
2. Making the custard filling.
3. Putting (1) and (2) together and baking.
4. Poaching rhubarb with which to top the cooled, finished product of (3).
5. Eating.

See? So much simpler when you look at it that way. And it’s beautiful: sunny-yellow custard filling all mellow and sweet from the addition of mandarin juice, just a tad aromatic and grown-up from cardamom and orange blossom water. The rhubarb and mandarin on top, though not as intensely dramatic as bright-red, burstingly juicy cherries or berries, are sweet and demure and just juicy enough to provide a lovely contrast to the creamy custard.

*Kotatsu. So traditionally, in Japanese homes, you sit on the floor on a low table when you eat. And in the winter, people sandwich a futon (not the fold-out sofa known to English-speakers as a futon, but a proper Japanese one, basically a thick, heavy duvet) in between the table top and the frame. And underneath? A heater. Yes. So amazing. Kotatsu are, in my opinion, quite possibly one of the best inventions mankind has ever come up with, and I’m perplexed as to why this hasn’t caught on in Western countries, especially New Zealand, what with our general lack of central heating or insulation and all.

**Almost as hard to believe as the fact that daylight savings time is nearly here: the fact that in 2002 I was still writing letters. Yes, I was also using email at the time, but it was still a time when letter-writing was, I dunno, somewhat common?!  It was pre-Facebook, that’s for sure. Now? I write letters to my grandma…

***Apparently I think about those tarts a lot… this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned them in a blog post.

MANDARIN CUSTARD TARTS WITH POACHED RHUBARB

First, make the shortcrust pastry. You’ll need about 400 grams. You can use your own favourite sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, or the following, which I’ve slightly from A Cook’s Bible:

200g flour sifted with 1/4 tsp salt
125 g butter
50g icing sugar
1 egg
zest of 1 or 2 mandarins 

Sift the flour and salt into a medium-sized bowl. Cut the butter into little pieces and rub into the flour using your fingers. Beat the egg, sugar and zest together and add to the flour mixture: it should be nice and firm like cookie dough.* If it’s too wet or soft, add a bit more flour. If it’s too dry, add a little milk. Form into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and stick in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

*A nice, firm cookie dough, like for sugar cookies or other cookies you roll out, not the kind you glop onto baking sheets.

While the pastry is resting in the fridge, prepare the mandarin custard filling:

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cream*
a few (5 or so) cardamom pods
a decent-sized piece of mandarin peel
1 cup mandarin juice
(from about 5-6 mandarins)
zest of about 2-3 mandarins
2 eggs, plus an egg yolk
(white reserved for brushing the inside of the pastry)
100g sugar

orange blossom water 
(optional)

Heat the milk and cream along with the cardamom pods and mandarin peel just until boiling. Cover and let steep for at least 10 minutes, maybe more, while you get everything else ready.

Squeeze about a cupful of mandarin juice and pour into a little saucepan. Boil vigorously until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. Let cool.

In a smallish bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk along with the sugar and mandarin zest until the sugar dissolves a bit and it’s well-combined. Add the reduced juice (ha! that’s fun to say) and whisk some more, then, using a sieve, strain out the cardamom pods and mandarin peel from the cream/milk mixture and pour that in. Give everything a good whisk to combine. If you have orange blossom water, add a couple drops of that – not to overpower it, but enough to give it that alluring hint of something seductively floral.

*I used a milk-cream mixture because I was almost out of cream. You could also just go ahead and use all cream.

Next, assembly! (The fun part, of course.)

Heat the oven to 170C. 

Roll out the pastry so it’s reasonably thin and use it to line a 12-cup muffin tin.* Line with baking paper, weigh the paper down with dry beans (or ceramic blind-baking beans or whatever you have), and blind bake at 170C for about 10-15 minutes until they’re just starting to get a golden hue and hold their shape.

Take them out of the oven, remove the baking paper liners and beans, and brush the inside with the reserved egg white. Pop back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Turn the oven down to 150C.

Let them cool down a bit before you put the custard filling in. You don’t have to go crazy and wait ages, I lasted about 5 minutes.

Using a small ladle, carefully pour the custard filling into each tart shell so that it comes almost all the way up to the top. Carefully (I tend to slosh these things around and make a huge mess, so be steady) place these in the oven.  Bake at 150C for about 20 minutes or until just set (no longer liquidy, though they may still have a teensy bit of wobble). Remove from the oven and cool completely.

* Or, 2 6-cup muffin tins, or individual tart tins, or whatever takes your fancy really – .

Next, poach the rhubarb for the topping:

2 stalks rhubarb, cut into little pieces that’ll fit in each tart
bits of mandarin peel
a couple tablespoons sugar

Heat the sugar and mandarin peel in about 1/2 cup water until the sugar is all dissolved and the mixture comes to a nice simmer. Add the rhubarb pieces and simmer gently for 2 or so minutes, so that they’re just cooked and tender but not totally falling apart. Remove from the liquid and let cool.

When everything is completely cool, top each tart with a bit of rhubarb and a mandarin segment (pith removed). Chill in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Wow! And congratulations and thank you for making it to the end of this extremely long post! Thank you also to all the people who have visited the Facebook page for this blog already, and hit ‘like’ – if you haven’t yet, it’s at www.facebook.com/milliemirepoix and I have unashamedly talked it up here. Feel free to check it out.

pear, feijoa & ginger crostata

In autumn, baking, desserts, winter on 18 August, 2011 at 8:10 am

Okay, so I know what you’re thinking. Feijoa? In August? You’re right, this post has been sitting here for a wee while. 

But I’ve been wanting to post it anyway. I’ve been in a little bit of a seasonal rebellion. Feels like it was only yesterday that I was lamenting the end of summer and relishing the settling-down feeling of autumn. Feels like it went by in too quick a flash and suddenly all at once winter had set in, the shortest day had come and gone, and we were hurtling recklessly down a fast track into spring. The days were (still are!) getting longer, there were snowdrops and daffodils and lambs on the side of the road coming back from the mountain, the birds seemed to be chirping a bit more, I  smelled something akin to that distinct smell of thaw* in the air in the still, clear mornings.

It came to a head last weekend when I was in Auckland visiting friends and it was warm (warm enough for bare legs and no woolly coat! for a little while at least), springlike, magnolias flowering everywhere. And it was nice. But I thought, hang on. It’s still August. I’m not ready for spring yet. Spring is  full of new beginnings and everything young and tender and bursting with potential. And yes, it’s exciting, with changes afoot and everything moving forward and so on. But not just yet. Not for me, anyway.

So when it snowed on Monday (I was still in Auckland during the first snow on Sunday) and I couldn’t contain my excitement, maybe there was a bit more to it than just the novelty of seeing snowflakes outside my window. In Wellington. On The Terrace. (!!!) Maybe there was a little bit of relief in there too, a little bit of: slow down now, relax, it’s not spring yet.

And as much as I’ve been scrunching up my face at the hail, at the sleet, at having to take taxis home when the buses have stopped, this ridiculously wintry weather has been kind of a reprieve from the dizzying trajectory into spring. Spring is full of opportunity: I’m not there yet. Almost, but not just yet. I’m still holding on to winter, to stews and roasts and snow, to weekends spent with friends and homemade steak pies and mulled wine and hot chocolates, woolly blankets and daydreams. I’m a huge fan of spring and summer but I’m still grasping backwards, to a simpler time, cosy and pleasant and quiet: early winter, maybe even late autumn, when the whole hunkering-down business was still ahead of us and things wouldn’t be picking up speed for a while.

So that’s why I’m sharing this late-autumn pie. The time will soon come when I have to let go and embrace the new, the young, the fresh, to fill my pies with the very first strawberries, to scan supermarket shelves wildly for asparagus. But not just yet.

Until that time comes I’ll be happily making soups and stews and eating the last of the pears, hanging onto the gritty-sweet memories of last season’s fruit. Like feijoas. (Though the other night I did make a pear and tamarillo crumble which is a far more appropriate fruit combination for right now: I reckon it would work beautifully in this pie.)

*If you’ve ever lived in a place where everything (the ground, rivers, lakes, etc) freezes over in the winter you’ll know what I mean… that sort of raw, earthy, fresh dirt smell after months of smelling practically nothing outside. It’s invigorating.

PEAR, FEIJOA & GINGER CROSTATA (makes 2 smallish or 1 large pie)

For the crust:
(recipe adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book via this Serious Eats post)

140g flour*
1 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
110g butter, very cold & cut into little pieces
3-4 Tbsp ice cold water, as needed

Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the butter pieces and toss so that they’re coated in the flour mixture. Rub the butter into the flour (or use a pastry cutter or food processor) until the mixture reaches a pebbly consistency.

Sprinkle 3 tbsp of the cold water over the mixture, and using your hands, work the mixture into a dough. If it’s not sticking together enough, add a little more water (only a bit at a time); if it’s too sticky, add a bit more flour. Form into a ball. If you’re making 2 smaller pies, as I did here, divide the dough into 2 and roll into balls. Flatten them a bit, wrap in plastic wrap, stick in the fridge to cool for at least half an hour.

For the filling:

Chop up roughly 350g pears (about 1-2 smallish pears) and scoop out the flesh of 1-2 feijoas (you could easily use tamarillo, or rhubarb, or any pie-appropriate fruit, really). Place in a bowl, grate some fresh ginger over the top, sprinkle over a handful of sugar (I used brown sugar), mix it up and let it sit for a bit.

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 350C.

Take the chilled pie dough out of the fridge and roll out onto a floured surface until it’s about 1/8 inch thick** and of a more or less circular shape. Trim any weird scraggly edges, but you don’t have to be too meticulous – this is a free-form pie, so a  little inconsistency is okay. (It adds character!)

Pile the fruit in the middle and fold over the outside edge, pinching a bit as you go. Dot the fruit with little torn-off bits of butter, brush the pastry with an egg wash of a beaten egg & a splash of milk, sprinkle demerara sugar over everything and stick in the oven for 25-30 minutes (if you are making one larger pie, you may need to have it in the oven for longer) until the fruit is cooked and the pastry’s nice and golden.

Let cool a little bit and serve with whipped cream or creme fraiche or a bit of plain yoghurt. 

*I’ve made this with both wholemeal flour and various combinations of white and wholemeal. It works however you do it, though you may need to tweak the amount of butter and/or water a little bit.

**You don’t want it to be too thin – this pie doesn’t have the benefit of a pie dish to hold it all together, so you’ll want it to be sturdy enough to hold in the juices.

ps. this is my first contribution to the Sweet New Zealand monthly blogging event organised by Alessandra. Got it in just in the nick of time :)