Fried Peppers with Cheese

This is a traditional Bulgarian recipe (or so I have been told), very easy to prepare but full of flavour. It is usually served as a starter or as a light snack, but you can easily turn this into a main dish. Use red peppers for best flavour and a nice chromatic contrast with the filling, yellow is fine too. I wouldn’t use green, but then again it’s completely up to you.

I decided to serve this with a nice and fresh salad made with leftovers. Seeing as you only need half a block of feta for the filling, I used the rest for the salad, added some sweetcorn I had in the fridge and pepped it all up with paprika, black pepper, some oil and some coriander.

IMG_20130818_083400

 

Ingredients

  • 4 long peppers
  • 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • olive oil
  • 100g feta, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp chilli powder

Method

  1. Cut the peppers in halves, scoop out the seeds and the white core, then place under a preheated grill, skin side uppermost. Cook until the skin is charred and blackened. Place them on a plate, then cover with clingfilm and leave to steam for about 10 minutes.
  2. Using a sharp knife, carefully peel away the skin from the peppers.
  3. In a bowl, mix together 1 egg, the feta, parsley and chilli powder. Divide evenly among the pepper slices.
  4. Reshape the peppers to look whole. Prepare two shallow bowls, one with the remaining egg slightly beaten and the other one with the seasoned flour. Dip the whole peppers in the beaten egg, then in the flour. You can create a double coating if you want to.
  5. Pour some olive oil in a frying pan, then gently fry the peppers on both sides for about 4 minutes a side. Drain them on kitchen paper before serving them.

20130818_193000

 

Advertisement

Sachertorte Slices

First of all, these quantities make a huge cake. The idea here is to use a square cake ring to build the cake up, then leave it to set and cut it into slices. If you, like me, do not own such magical item, you can use a square loose-bottomed cake tin (which you’ll need to make the sponges anyway). Just make sure you cover the sides with clingfilm as it will make easier to remove the cake once set.

This a slightly boozier version of the traditional Sachertorte, with both the ganache and the sponge layers containing orange liqueur – needless to say, I used Cointreau. Also, you can leave it out and use orange juice or essence instead. This could be the perfect way of serving it up for any special occasions, as you can choose how big to make the slices and it moves a cake from being, well, a cake to being finger food. Genius!

IMG_20130818_120141

Ingredients (for the sponge layers)

  • 7 large eggs, separated
  • 180g unsalted butter, softened
  • 300g golden caster sugar
  • 180g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 180g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence

Ingredients (for the ganache)

  • 300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 300ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp Cointreau or orange essence/juice

Ingredients (for the soaking medium, assembling and decoration)

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 60ml water
  • 2 tbsp Cointreau
  • 250g apricot jam
  • chocolate sprinkles, drops, curls

Method

  1. Make the sponge layers first. Break up the dark chocolate, then tumble in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water and slowly melt. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
  2. Line the bottom and butter the sides of a square loose-bottomed cake tin (mine is approximately 30x30cm), then pre-heat the oven to 180C.
  3. Using a freestanding mixer (or by hand), cream the butter with 150g sugar, then add the vanilla extract. Slowly start adding the egg yolks, one by one, beating well after each addition. Once finished, slowly add the chocolate mixture too, beating well to obtain a glossy and dark chocolate mixture.
  4. In another bowl, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks with the remaining sugar (30g) until you get a glossy meringue, then use a plastic spatula to incorporate to the chocolate mixture. Start with one third of the egg whites and use ample and slow movements to mix that into the chocolate mixture, then carefully add the rest being careful not to knock too much air out.
  5. Mix the flour and the salt, then sift over the mixture. Slowly mix that in too. Transfer the chocolate mixture into the prepared tin, level the surface and push the mixture into the sides. Bake for about 40 minutes.
  6. Once cooked, transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then turn out of the cake tin and leave to cool completely.
  7. Now move on to the ganache. Finely grate or chop the dark chocolate, then set aside. In a small pan, bring the cream to the boil, then tumble in the chopped chocolate and leave to stand for about 5 minutes. Use a rubber spatula or a whisk to mix and smooth out any chocolate bits. Slowly pour in the liqueur, then cover with clingfilm and leave to cool and harden slightly.
  8. When the sponge layers have cooled down completely, you can start assembling the cake. Use a serrated knife to cut the cake into two even layers, then set those aside. In a small pan, melt the sugar with the water and boil for about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and mix in the orange liqueur.
  9. Transfer one of the sponge slices to the prepared cake tin (see introduction) or a square cake ring, then use a pastry brush to brush the cake layers with the soaking medium. This will ensure your cake is very moist and full of flavour.
  10. Top with most of the apricot jam and spread it to create an even layer, then top with the other sponge layer and soak that with the sugar and liqueur syrup too. Brush the top of the cake with the remaining apricot jam, then leave to set for about half an hour.
  11. Pour the chocolate ganache on top of the cake and use a spatula to smooth it out and spread it right until the corners. Transfer the cake to the fridge for an hour to set. Once set, sprinkle the top of the cake with the chocolate sprinkles and/or curls and/or drops. Be as artistic as you like. return the cake to the fridge for at least 4 hours (or overnight).
  12. When ready, carefully and slowly remove the cake from the cake tin, then use a very sharp knife to cut even slices. You can choose whether to have square or rectangular slices. Serve at once.

IMG_20130818_120252

IMG_20130818_120208

Peschine – Boozy Pastry Peaches

It all began when my mother gave me an Italian pastry recipe book which contained this childhood classic (well, mine at least). These are small shortcrust biscuits sandwiched together with pastry cream, then rolled in a dark red liqueur and granulated sugar. The result is a peach-looking like biscuit, very boozy and finger lickin’ good. I remember going to the pastry shop as a kid and asking my mother to buy me one of these, only to devour it in a few seconds. Not that I showed any alcoholic obsessions from an early age (the alcohol content is minimal if compared to other desserts), but more because of the deep red colour and the intense flavour these biscuits have. Just divine.

20130817_150236

According to tradition, these should be made using two liqueurs. First, Maraschino, a Dalmatian liqueur obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries, is added to the dough. As I didn’t have it, I used Cognac instead. These little beauties are then rolled in Alchermes, an Italian alcoholic concoction prepared with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla. Alchermes is renowned for its deep scarlet red colour, obtained with the addition of Kermes, a parasitic insect. When it came out the liqueur was prepared with insects, sales dropped and people refused to use it. As a result, modern preparations prefer vegetable colourings instead. I bought mine in Italy, but you should be able to buy it online or in specialist shops.¬†Also, the filling can traditionally be either pastry cream or its chocolate version. I stipulated in favour of the second one, mostly because that’s the way I have always had them.

20130817_151722

Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp Cognac
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of one lemon

Ingredients (for the filling and decoration)

  • about 450g pastry cream and/or chocolate pastry cream
  • about 200ml Alchermes
  • 200g granulated sugar

Method

  1. Line two (or three) baking trays with baking parchment. Do not turn the oven on now as the pastry needs to chill.
  2. Using a freestanding mixer (or your hands), cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the egg and mix that in.
  3. Mix the flour with the raising agents, then sift those in and work them into the mixture, ensuring not to overwork it. Add the liqueur and the lemon zest, then work those in too. Gather the dough into a ball.
  4. Dust your working surface with a good amount of flour, then place your dough in the middle and use a floured rolling pin to roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin. Use a 4cm round cutter to cut shapes, then roll each one into a ball and place on the prepared baking tray. Keep on re-rolling your pastry trimmings to make as many nugget-sized pastry balls as possible. Also ensure you have an even number as you will need to sandwich them. Transfer each baking tray to the fridge to firm up before baking. You will need approximately 20-30 minutes.
  5. Towards the end of the baking time, pre-heat your oven to 180C, then bake each biscuit batch for 15 minutes. Do not overbake to give them a deep golden colour as they will be too hard afterwards. Remove each batch from the fridge and leave on a wire rack to cool down and firm up.
  6. Once cooled, use a knife to slightly carve the peach halves. This will ensure more cream can be used to fill them and keep the two halves together.
  7. When you are ready to assemble, place the granulated sugar in a shallow bowl, the liqueur in another and have the pastry cream at hand with a teaspoon. In an assembly line sort of way, fill the two halves with some pastry cream, then join them on the flat side to make them stick. Dunk them briefly in the Alchermes (you don’t want them to become too soggy), then roll them in the granulated sugar. Transfer them to an empty plate and, should you feel particularly artistic, decorate each one with a small mint leaf.

20130817_151713

 

IMG_20130817_115440

Danish Pastries with Fruit

I have only recently noticed that a book my mum gave me last time I went back home to Italy is indeed a manual for patisserie. Wahou! Come think of it, that explains why it contained so many pastry recipes… Anyway, this is one of the first ones and it looked grand on paper. I decided to give it a try because, after all, what’s life without a challenge? It took me two days to complete, but only because I wanted to make sure the dough was given plenty of chilling & resting time in the fridge after each turn.

The overall concept behind it is puff pastry (of course!). You layer a yeasted dough with butter and fold it over and over again, more or less as you would do to make croissants. The only very tricky part (I would say) is probably creating the 8-shaped spirals, which take a bit of practice. Your first ones might come out a bit out of shape, but insist and you’ll get there. As you can see from the pictures below, mine were not all equal, but I like to think that adds to the charm of the whole thing not being industrially made. Last point, the fruit: choose fruits which is in season! The original recipe had kiwis, strawberries, grapes and apricots, but I decided to use some of the glorious British berries instead.

20130728_145300

Ingredients (for the starter)

  • 100ml lukewarm whole milk
  • 150g strong flour
  • 1 x 7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

Ingredients (for the dough)

  • 350g strong flour
  • 100g lukewarm whole milk
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk

Ingredients (for the butter filling)

  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 25g strong flour

Ingredients (for the decoration)

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3 tbsp double cream
  • granulated sugar
  • apricot jam
  • 400g firm custard (I made my own)
  • mixed fruit

Method

  1. To prepare your starter, melt the dried yest into the lukewarm milk, then pour that in a small bowl and add the flour. Bring together to make a small dough ball, then cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise for about 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
  2. Once that is ready, sift the flour and the salt into the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or you can use a normal bowl and knead by hand). Turn the mixer on low speed and use the hook attachment to mix in the egg, egg yolk and caster sugar.
  3. Slowly pour in the lukewarm milk and the starter, then increase the speed to medium and knead until fully combined. Now add the butter and keep on kneading until fully incorporated and the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl (approximately 10 minutes or 20-25 by hand). Tip the dough in a bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, prepare your butter. In a bowl, mix the softened unsalted butter with the flour, then spread that on a piece of clingfilm, wrap tightly and use a rolling pin to roll out to a rectangle about 20x30cm and 1/2cm thick. Put in the fridge to chill and firm up.
  5. When the dough has risen, chill it in the fridge for about 10 minutes, then tip it out on a floured work surface, deflate it and roll it out to a rectangle. Take the butter sheet out of the fridge, remove the clingfilm and place in the middle of the dough. Ensure the dough rectangle is bigger than the butter sheet. Fold the edges of the dough over the butter sheet, then pinch together to seal.
  6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 60x30cm long rectangle, ensuring to press evenly on the butter so it spreads within the dough. Fold a third of the dough at the top and at the bottom towards the centre of the dough, then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Repeat this folding technique another 3 times (4 turns in total), much in the same way as you would do with puff pastry. If you are a novice to puff pastry, please have a look at the very detailed tutorial from Emma, someone who is definitely more technical than me.
  8. Once the pastry has been chilled thoroughly after the fourth turn, take it out the fridge and roll it out to a big rectangle, about 50x30cm. It should be slightly less thick than a pound coin.
  9. Using a floured and very sharp knife, cut 1.5cm along the longer side of the pastry, then roll them in pairs to create a braid. Shape each braid into an 8, tucking the excess pastry underneath. Put each braid on a lined baking tray.
  10. Leave the 8-shaped pastry braids to rise until doubled in size, then put in the fridge to chill until firm.
  11. In the meantime, clean and slice (if necessary) your fruit, then set aside. Towards the end of the chilling time, preheat your oven to 190C.
  12. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk with the cream, then set aside. Dollop some custard into each hole of the 8-shaped braids, then brush the braids with the egg and cream mixture. Sprinkle with some granulated sugar. Bake each batch for 20-25 minutes until golden and well puffed up.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool almost completely on a wire rack. In the meantime, melt some apricot jam in a saucepan, then arrange your fruit of choice on the custard bits and brush the apricot jam on the whole Danish pastry to keep everything in place. Serve warm or cold.

20130728_134226

 

20130728_131549

 

20130728_145253