Bacon Whoopies

Before I delve any further into the specifics of this recipe, let me begin with a small preamble on food. This recipe originally called for Speck Alto Adige PGI. For those of you who are not familiar with it, PGI stands for protected geographical indication and it denotes a food product by means of its origin. In particular, it determines that only a certain food product coming from a specific place can be considered/sold/commercialised under that name. In this case, the Trentino-Alto Adige region, in the North of Italy. Indeed, this is where this type of dry-cured and lightly smoked ham comes from. It is made from pork hind quarters, which are first smoked, then cured over a 22-week period and covered in a salt crust. The rule to follow, in this case, is ‘a little salt, a little smoke and a lot of fresh air.’ Speck is very tasty and unique to Italy. I have never seen it outside its borders, alone maybe for Germany and Austria.

Seeing as this cured meat is virtually impossible to track down here in the UK (and God forbid I went on a journey to find some only to make this recipe), I substituted it with smoked rindless bacon. It’s not the same and you need to cook the bacon first, but you need to work with what you have. So, to go back to this recipe, these are savoury whoopie pies (or whoopies). The biscuits are soft and crumbly and the filling is very moreish. You’d be amazed at how just a handful of ingredients can taste so good when thrown together. I used Emmentaler here, but any smoked or strong cheese would also be fine. These are also best enjoyed as a starter or with a tomato salad. Perfect for a picnic or a party, you can get approximately 8-10 full biscuits from this recipe, depending on how big you pipe them.

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Ingredients

  • 200g smoked rindless bacon
  • 120g whole milk
  • 100g plain flour
  • 85g wholemeal plain flour
  • 80g unsalted butter
  • 125g cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 30g Emmentaler, grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C fan. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the two flours with the salt, bicarbonate of soda and grated cheese.
  3. In the bowl of a freestanding mixer (or in a normal bowl), cream the butter with the leaf attachment, then add the egg. Mix to combine, then add the flour mixture, followed by the milk. The mixture will look lumpy and liquid, but as long as it holds its shape a little it’s fine.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a piping bag, snip the end off and pipe evenly sized blobs onto the lined baking trays. The mounds should be approximately 3cm in diameter and make sure they are evenly spaced as the biscuits will slightly flatten. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden on top.
  5. Cook the bacon in a dry frying pan until slightly crispy, then remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor and finely mince, then cool completely.
  6. In a bowl, lightly whip the cream cheese with approximately 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil until smooth, then add the minced bacon and some black pepper. Combine with a spatula.
  7. To assemble the whoopie pies, hold one biscuit half, then spread some bacon cream on top of it and gently squeeze the other half together. Allow to come to room temperature before eating. Enjoy!

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Gruyère, Spinach and Bacon Quiche (with Walnut Pastry)

This is another great summer dish and a creative variation on the ‘quiche’ theme. Sometimes I wish I could just pack a big carrier bag and go on a picnic somewhere sunny. Unfortunately, the weather in this country doesn’t allow me to go very far before pouring rain down on me and, after some sunny spells in the past few weeks, you’ll all be pleased to know the weather is back to being cold and bleak. Just wonderful. That said, even if you can’t organise a picnic somewhere, this shouldn’t prevent you from making this dish from scratch and from enjoying it with a fizzy cocktail, possibly in good company.

Rather than being encased by a traditional shortcrust, this pastry is made up of flour, butter and finely ground walnuts. With that in mind, it helps if you have a strong food processor, as the nuts will need to be pulverized. Please be gentle when you handle it as the pastry is very brittle. After all, nuts are not as sturdy as the combination of butter and flour. I have amended the recipe for the pastry to include a whole egg, but if you prefer you can just use the yolk. Needless to say, if you don’t like bacon or would like to make it a vegetarian dish instead, just leave it out. The filling is rich enough as it is and bacon here only brings saltiness and a bit of texture.

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Ingredients (for the pastry)

  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g shelled walnuts, finely ground
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 200g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp cold water

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 150g bacon lardons
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 300g baby leaf spinach
  • 5 large eggs
  • 300ml double cream
  • 150g gruyère, grated
  • 3 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. To make the pastry, add the flour and salt to the finely ground nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined. Add the chilled and cubed butter, then pulse again until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, add the egg and pulse until the mixture comes together. You might not need to add the water but, if you do, just pulse again afterwards to combine the ingredients.
  2. Tip the pastry out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to make it even. Shape it into a ball, then flatten it into a disc, wrap it in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, fry the bacon in a frying pan over medium heat until crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon and dry on kitchen paper. Add the onions to the frying pan, then cook until translucent. Tumble in the spinach leaves and wilt down, mixing constantly.
  4. Transfer the onion and spinach mixture to a sieve and press gently with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible. leave to drain and occasionally squeeze some more juice out.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
  6. Take the pastry out of the oven, then roll it on a lightly floured surface to line a 23cm fluted tart tin. You are looking for a 4mm thickness. Cut the excess off by rolling your pin over the top of the tin, then gently ease the pastry in shape and press it lightly upwards, so that the pastry is slightly taller than the dish. Prick the base with a fork and chill for another 30 minutes.
  7. Line the inside of the pastry case with baking parchment, then fill it with baking beans and blind bake the case for 15 minutes. Remove the parchment and the beans, then bake for another 20 minutes until the case is golden and completely dry.
  8. To assemble the tin, spread the spinach and onion mixture on the bottom of the tart case, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top. This will ensure any remaining liquid seeping out will be absorbed and won’t give you a soggy bottom. Scatter the bacon lardons on top.
  9. In a jug, combine the eggs with the cream, cheese and some seasoning, then pour over the rest of the filling. Bake for 50 minutes, until golden.
  10. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin, then unmould and serve. Best enjoyed at room temperature or cold.

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