Portuguese Custard Tarts

I love these delicious sweet treats that offer so much more comforting satisfaction than their first appearance promises. I decided to make these for two reasons. The first of these was that they are quite frankly delicious and I wanted to eat one and the second was that I fancied making some puff pastry having not done so for a while. If you want to use ready rolled pastry skip ahead to the second set of instructions below.

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To make enough pastry for 12 perfectly proportioned individual tarts:

Ingredients
110 g plain flour
80 g butter
50 g margarine/lard
a pinch of salt
75 mL water

The ratio of butter and margarine specified in the recipe above is not written in stone but I find I get the best balance of a nice buttery flavour with good layers and a pleasant crispy texture when I use these proportions. The pastry can be made with all butter if preferred.

The first stage is to prepare your ingredients. Measure out the water and put it in the fridge. Measure out the fat and cut into small cubes. Put this in the freezer for 5 – 10 mins. While these elements are chilling, measure out the flour and combine with the salt and lightly flour a work surface.

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When the fat has chilled, add it to the flour and toss in the bowl until the cubes are coated with flour. Working quickly, add the water to the bowl in portions add bring the mixture together as a rough looking dough. The fat should still be in lumps at this stage. Once it has come together, place on the floured surface and shape into a rough log shape. Roll the dough out into a rectangle that is three times as long as it is wide (roughly 10 x 30 cm) keeping the edges as square as possible. Fold the top third down and the bottom third up to give a square. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise, use the rolling pin to press down the edges and then repeat the rolling and folding three times turning by 90 degrees after each fold. Pre-chilling the ingredients means the dough should stand up to this process without chilling again but id the dough starts to get soft or greasy, put the dough in the fridge for 20 minutes before continuing.

After the rolling and folding has been completed the dough will need to chill for at least 2 hours before use.

To make the tarts:

Ingredients
1 whole egg plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
100 g granulated caster sugar
400 mL milk (any will do but for a truly indulgent treat it has to be full fat
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Puff pastry as above or 1 sheet of ready made puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 190 °C

Combine the egg, yolks, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and add the milk. Stir to mix and then put the pan on a gentle heat stirring continuously until it thicken and just comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla essence. Put the custard a bowl and cover with cling film to prevent formation of a skin while the it cools. Meanwhile, roll out your puff pastry until it is a couple of mm thick. Aim for a rectangle about 40 x 60 cm in size. If it is easier, you can roll the dough out one half at a time. Cut the pastry into 24 squares around 10 x 10 cm and grease a 12 muffin tray. Line each hole with one square of pastry followed by a second square at 45 degrees to the second to create a decorative star-type shape. Spoon the cooled custard evenly on top of the raw pastry and place in the preheated oven for 25 mins until golden brown on top. Rest in the tin until cool enough to handle and then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Variation – For this batch, I topped half of the tarts with some cherry halves too a add a fruity twist to the classic.

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Toffee Oat Cookies

These cookies have caused me no end of difficulties over the last week for a number of different reasons. The first issue was the toffee chunks. I wanted to make my own toffee chunks for the cookies because the ready made ones were ridiculously overpriced in my view and its always good to add a new skill to your arsenal. I didn’t spend much time researching recipes (costly decision) and I went ahead with the second one I found as it seemed straightforward and simple. Combine half a cup of butter with half a cup of sugar with 2 tbsp water and a pinch of salt in a pan and then heat to 300 ° F before pouring onto a silicon mat and cooling. I tried this twice with baking fat (margarine) and both time I ended up with a mess of separated oil and hard caramel. I thought this might be the use of margarine so I tried again with butter but the same thing happened. I did take a couple of mixtures of the result but it looked so gross I decided not to upload them.

Back to the internet and I found that most of the recipes recommended four times as much sugar to fat ratio. The next attempt worked perfectly with 100 g granulated sugar, 10 g butter 2 tbsp water and 2 tbsp milk. Combine and heat to 280 ° F before pouring onto a silicon mate and leaving to cool. This give a fantastically flavoured brittle hard toffee which can easily be broken into pieces and stored in an airtight container.

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Having conquered the toffee, I went on to the cookies. I love oat cookies and have a tried and tested mixture that I use for oat and raisin cookies. This dough is the same with the toffee chunks used to replace the raisins.

Ingredients
100 g plain flour
100 g porridge oats
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
100 g light brown sugar
50 g granulated sugar
50 g butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large handful toffee bits

Preheat the oven to 190 ° C

Combine the flour, oats, baking powder and salt in a bowl and mix together with a whisk. Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy and then beat in the egg. Add the dry ingredients and combine thoroughly before folding in the toffee bits. Place walnut sized balls of the cookie mixture on a lined baking sheet with large gaps between them and flatten slightly. Bake the cookies for 9-11 mins until lightly golden. Allow to cool slightly on the baking sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cook completely.

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These cookies have a wonderful buttery caramel flavour and make a perfect treat with a cup of tea. These are incredibly moreish and the two dozen this recipe makes will not last long.

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Povitica (Pov-e-Tee-za)

Autumn has arrived in Bristol and I for one am quite please. I do like the long hot summer days but there is something so cosy about a fresh, bright autumn day that I cannot help but enjoy them. It is currently at that blissful stage where you need a jumper on the way to and from work but it is daylight when you wake up and warm enough to eat outdoors in a T-shirt comfortably at lunchtime. Adding to my current happiness is my new job situation which came about quite suddenly a few weeks ago. I have now substituted 3 hrs of daily commute with a 15 minute walk each way.

To celebrate my new lifestyle I am doing a lot more baking and this week I was inspired by the Great British Bake Off technical challenge. This European bread with an unpronounceable name is made with enriched dough and a walnut and cocoa filling looked spectacular when the contestants made it last week and I was desperate to give it a go. It is a Paul Hollywood recipe which means time consuming but delicious. Paul’s recipes always seem to involve more ingredients, more processes and lengthier resting periods. There have been numerous times where I have chose a short-cut version of a recipe rather than following his faff-tacular instructions only to be disappointed. If you follow his method to the letter, the results are almost guaranteed in my experience. This Povitica was another example of just that. Having learnt my lesson from previous failures, I did exactly as ordered by the recipe on the BBC website with the exception that I halved everything (after all, there was only Mr Elbi and myself to eat it).

After making a heavily enriched dough (which took much longer than the recipe suggested to rise), and a nutty, buttery, cocoa-y filling, the dough is stretched as large as possible and the filling spread evenly on top. Then a giant swiss roll is made and snaked into a loaf tin. After another rise and LOOOOOOOOOONG bake, the loaf is read and comes out looking ordinary and golden. The magic of this bake come when you slice into it revealing the pattern created by the swiss roll.

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This is an absolutely delicious piece of baking (if I do say so myself). The savoury flavour of the nuts balances out all the sugar in the dough and the filling to give a fantastically moreish product. This did take me about 4.5 hours to make though. Perfect for my new lifestyle / a quiet Sunday at home.

Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

A slightly (but hopefully not too) late post for yesterday. This weekend I had my first attempt at biscotti. I love these little coffee accompaniments. The sweet nuttiness goes so well with the bitter dark taste of freshly brewed black coffee. Plus, on saturday kitchen this week, James Martin made biscotti which means that this weekend, I must make biscotti.

As a first attempt at biscotti, I wanted to keep it simple and add only a couple of additional ingredients. I scouted around the internet and the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnut caught my eye (and taste buds). These beauties here look especially fantastic. Oh and these. There are so many fantastic recipes it’s hard to choose. However, getting my sensible hat on, I decided not to put cocoa into the biscuit mix. It may sound ridiculous but I sometime find it hard to judge the “golden brown” stage of unfamiliar recipes that have cocoa in them.

So……here we have Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Biscotti

INGREDIENTS

2 eggs

100 g caster sugar

250 g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

25 g hazelnuts

50 g dark chocolate

1/2 tsp vanilla essence

1. Whisk together the sugar and the eggs until light and fluffy. (I would definitely recommend an electric whisk for this. Normally I use a low-tech balloon whisk but this defeated me)

2. Sift the flow and bicarbonate of soda into a separate bowl. Roughly chop the hazelnuts and chocolate and add them to the flour

3. Add the vanilla essence to the eggs and then fold in the dry ingredients a little at a time. (I also added some pistachio essence at this point because I can’t get enough of that flavour at the moment)

4. Once your ingredients are combined into a dough, turn the dough onto a floured surface. Shape into a sausage about 35-30cm long and then press until it is around 2-3 cm high.

5. Bake at 180 degrees C for 30 mins until golden brown the remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 140 degrees C

6. Slice the sausage into 1.5 cm slices and lay these out on a baking tray cut side up and return to the oven for 20 mins

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NOTE The biscotti pictured here had only half the amount of chocolate in the recipe but I increased the suggested quantity because they could do with a boost

Week 5 – Traybakes and Biscuits

YAY! This week I was very keen to get going with my bake-along. I did actually complete this bake within hours of the episode being on TV. I just haven’t quite got around to blogging about it yet. The creations of the contestants were so unusual. I especially loved Howards tower of tea flavoured biscuits and I was destraught when Frances’ beautiful tower of buttons collapsed. This week also featured one of the hardest (IMHO) technical bakes to date. I would love to have had a go at the tuiles but my other half announced that if I messed up the kitchen to that extent he would have to seriously consider continuing to live with me. Luckily I had my heart set on the Traybake anyway. The creations presented by the contestants were superb and I hope to try making most of them in the future but I wanted to do something different and of my own. I have a huge number of chopped walnuts in my baking cupboard for an unknown reason so I decided that I would use up some this excess and incorporate them into my bake.

I decided to adapt this recipe I found online but I altered it by including some coffee (1tsp instant coffee granules) in the chocolate layer. This bake was fantastic although I think that cutting it into 24 portions would be a bit mean. Sixteen seemed about the right number. The walnut biscuit was very short with a nice crumbly texture and buttery flavour. The chocolate layer recipe is more unusual and not something that I have come across before. The combination of water and butter to make this gave an almost curdled texture when raw. I was beating the mixture together with a wooden spoon and this was insufficient to get the smooth glossy texture described. I would recommend beating the ingredients together in a different order, adding the water last to make a batter although the appearance of the raw mixture was not detrimental to the final outcome. The chocolate layer was soft and slightly chewy giving a nice contrast to the biscuit base.

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I loved this bake and Mr Elbi was also very pleased describing it as tasty trail mix. The addition of coffee and high nut content tempered the sweetness normally associated with chocolate and biscuit making it ideal for consumption on our recent walking break in Wales. I am tempted to try a second generation version of this bake soon with a thin layer of carmel between the biscuit and the chocolate. This would hopefully be a more indulgent variation on this recipe perfect for afternoon tea.

Week 4 – Pies and Tarts

Argh! My own person Bake-Off challenge has ground to a serious halt. I have been baking but not putting the pictures etc. up on here. So prepare for an onslaught of baking related information. This week I took on the showstopper challenge……or did I? Last year the contestants were asked to make strudel and I was so inspired by the painstakingly slow process of gently stretching out the dough to get lovely thin strudel pastry. To me, this all seemed very similar to the filo pastry challenge but under a different name. If anyone feels strongly that this is incorrect I would love to know why but my interpretation of this challenge meant that I could try out a recipe that I have had my eye on for the last year; Catherine’s strudel from the last series of GBBO.

I modified the reipe slightly using a bit more couscous to make the filling and feta cheese to replace the slipcote cheese. I kind of wish I hadn’t done this because I think the softer cheese would have been nice in the strudel which turned out a bit dry in the middle.

Making the dough was good fun. I used the over the shoulder flinging method to need my pastry and had to remake it after a disaster which saw the first batch sail across my kitchen and land in the bin – could not have done it better if I had tried. The second batch was more successful though and stayed out of the bin. As the dough comes together, it becomes a soft elastic dough that stretches like silly putty. After resting it has to be stretched to the very thin sheet that is used to wrap the dough. This was so much easier than I expected. In fact it was so easy that I made it way too thin and then it was too delicate to manipulate around the dough. I could have read a newspaper through it though. The strudel wasn’t as neat as I had hoped but it made for great picnic fodder when walking around the Brecon Beacons this week. We ate it with plenty of yogurt mixed with chilli sauce to counteract the dry texture of the filling but this went nicely with the strudel. I am no longer scared of making this super thin pastry though and look forward to using it again.

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Week 3 – Deserts

For the third week of competitive baking, the contestants were asked to make a trifle, floating islands and petit fours. I find it hard to get massively excited about trifle as its not my favourite thing to eat. Having said that though, the inventive trifles that were produced were quite inspiring. The technical challenge was Mary Berry’s recipe for floating islands desert. This is the bake that I decided to attempt for myself from this weeks episode. I have never eaten these and I saw MIchel Roux Jr. make them on TV a while ago. I intended to have a go at theat point but never got round to it so now I thought this would be the perfect chance.

I have no electric whisk or hand mixer type equipment so I have to hand whisk everything. For that reason and the fact that there were only three of us for dinner last night, I made a half quantity of this desert. This was more than enough for the three of us and we were all feeling rather over-stuffed when we finished but I’m glad I did it. The custard that is made from this recipe is the best custard I have ever tasted. It was so rich and velvety and I could have eaten a whole tub of it.

Merigue at the ready
Merigue at the ready

This recipe was really easy to follow and I had very little trouble with it although I will not be writing quenelling merigue as a skill on my CV any time soon. My only concern was how long to cook the ‘islands for.’ The recipe calls for 8-10 minutes which contradicts what a number of other blogs say. When I poached the meringue, the islands puffed up and were massive but by the time they came they had shrunk back down again. I didn’t leave it for any longer than the recipe suggested and the texture of the meringue was like a mousse. Did I overcook them?

Poaching the 'islands'
Poaching the ‘islands’

I don’t know how this desert is supposed to taste but it was a loss less sweet than I thought it was going to be. My main experience with meringe is that stuff that crumbles into pure sugar in your mouth. I really enjoyed it but my other half in his usual supportive way decided it tasted like wierdly sweet scrambled egg………….he’s so lovely.

Plated and ready to munch
Plated and ready to munch

I will make this desert again as it has a very satisfying comforting feel to it but I think the spun sugar/some caramel is important to balance the flavours.