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Pear and blackberry tart with chestnut flour pastry

Since the first time I read about it, in a book given to me by the hosts of a Water Colour holiday * I went on last year, called “Simple French Cuisine from Provence and Languedoc”, I’ve been wanting to use, and looking for, Chestnut Flour. The idea intrigued me. Can you make pastry with it? I found some in a bin in a bulk health food store eventually and bought a bag, even though I had no idea what to do with it.

After a bit of reading, I found that it’s a traditionally used flour in parts of Italy and France, among other places, when other flours are unavailable. And traditionally, the pastry I wanted to make was done on a counter top, like pasta pastry. You know the one: you dump all your flour onto your counter top in a nice big pile, make a well in the middle and throw the eggs into it. Well, I’ve never done this before, but I’m not one to back down from a challenge it I can help it. It was a bit of a tricky, sticky task, and after 15 mins of kneading the eggs and butter into the flour I was covered head to toe in the fine chestnut flour and my hands up to my wrists were a sticky, icky mess. Of course I’d forgotten to take off my wedding ring, so all it’s crevices are now caked in dried pastry. Eventually, in exasperation, I put the whole lot in a bowl and mixed it with a wooden spoon, adding more flour until a more manageable consistency was reached. If I hadn’t been laughing so much I would have been cursing!

Well, the end product is still delicious. Does anyone have any tips for working with Chestnut Flour? Any help is appreciated!

* The McEwans run a wonderful workshop holiday, whether you’re there for the lessons, the cuisine or the insightful personal guides to the area and local towns near Lodev. The hosts are warm and intimate, the food, cooked by Mrs McEwan, is inspiring, fresh and hearty and the skills available to you from Mr McEwan are invaluable whether you’re a watercolour hobbyist or a veteran painter.

Pear and blackberry tart with chestnut flour pastry 2

Pear and Blackberry Tarts with Chestnut Pastry

makes 6 tarts

for the pastry:
2½ cups Chestnut Flour
2 sticks butter, soft
3 Tbsp sugar
1 Jumbo egg

for the filling:
¼ cup ground almond
⅓ cup Sugar
1 egg
1 Tbsp Vanilla Essence

1 just ripe pear, quartered, cored and sliced finely
1 punnet blackberries

– make the pastry:

– beat the softened butter with the sugar until creamy

– add the egg and flour and mix, using a spoon and then your hands, until a soft dough is formed. Add more flour is necessary.

– flatten into a disc, cover with plastic and refrigerate for 45 mins.

– grease and flour pie tins.

– in a small bowl, mix almond, sugar, egg, butter and vanilla until well blended. Refrigerate for about 30 mins.

– using pastry in bits (keep the unused amount in the fridge in the mean time) roll out on a floured surface and line pie tins. Refrigerate for 10 mins before filling.

– divide filling cream between shells, arrange pears and berries. I placed a piece of pastry on top of each pie for added decoration. (if doing this, brush lightly with milk so that it browns in the oven)

– bake at 325˚F for 30 – 35 mins until browned and yummy.

these are best served warmish with whipped cream

Pear and blackberry tart with chestnut flour pastry 3

chestnut-tarts-comp.jpg

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Banana chocolate tarts with coconut

While away camping in Algonquin we had something for dessert that I haven’t had in a million years. I watched the shiny parcels being made up and carefully placed in the hot, glowing coals of a camp fire and as the packages were eventually passed around, one at a time, the silver foil peeled back and the sweet steam billowed into fire-lit faces, I felt eons and ages dissolving from my soul like the shadows of night at the dawn. I was a child again for a while; I was 5, I was 7, I was 11 years old gleefully eating baked banana’s with chocolate oozing out of them. That weekend had many moments that will stay with me forever, and that will be one of the top ones. This is a slightly less messy, more grown up approach, but just as yummy.

*ps/ I sneakily made a double batch of the pastry from the peach tart, which I used here. Use your own taste when making these tarts up as to the choc/coconut/banana ratio. Amounts are only a guide.

Banana chocolate tarts with coconut 2

Chocolate Banana Tarts with Coconut

6 Pate Brise lined mini tart tins (5″)

90 ml dark chocolate spread (or use a hazelnut choc spread like Nutella)
60 ml dessicated coconut
3 large banana’s, thinly sliced
30 ml white sugar
30 ml light brown (blonde) sugar

– preheat your oven to 400˚F

– Spread 1 Tbsp choc spread on the base of each tart shell

– divide the coconut between the tarts (about 2 tsp each)

– arrange the banana slices over the coconut

– mix the two sugars in a small bowl

– sprinkle half the sugar over the tarts, reserve the rest

– bake the tarts for about 20 mins.

– Sprinkle remaining sugar over banana’s. Caramelise with a blow torch until sugar is golden.

– alternatively, grill under a hot grill in your oven for a few minutes, but keep an eye on them so as not to burn the pastry.

Banana chocolate tarts with coconut 3

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Peach Tart with Almond Saffron Cream

I love a dinner party. We used to host them quite frequently back home and loved getting return invites to others’ houses, whether it was for a long slaved over butternut and sage risotto with home baked bread and butter pudding or a heat and eat from Woolies with Magnum sticks for dessert. We all loved the food, but the evening was made truly special not so much by the cuisine as the friends and the laughs and the celebration of friendships. Isn’t that why we eat in any case? Since moving to these Northern Climes, we’ve not had much opportunity to host our own parties but have, from time to time, enjoyed the hospitality of some wonderful new friends in their homes. We were invited last night to a somewhat unusual dinner party by some good friends, Ms M and her lovely Mr S. The theme? Orange! The meals were split by course over the guests with the only proviso being that the food had to be orange! We all wore orange, drank orange and felt decidedly Sunny the whole evening.

What luck that in season right now are a fabulous selection of orange fruit and veg, or we might all have had to resort to slipping drops of Moir’s food colouring into everything! We started off with an orange salsa made from bright orange tomatoes and a dash of Cilantro, sliced orange peppers and Beamster cheese , a mature, hard cheese with little lumps of salt in it, part of the Gouda family. We drank Tangerine Martini’s, expertly prepared by our host, and less successful cocktails of Malibu with fresh peaches (my decision and one I don’t think I’ll repeat). For the mains our honourable hosts prepared a sunset coloured feast of spicy pepper pasta with orange tomatoes and peppers in a superbly tasty olive oil and garlic, with a side salad of fresh orange tomatoes and Mimolette cheese, which, incidentally, is favoured by Charles de Gualles, and I can see why. Thanks to Ms M and Ms B, our other Orang-er, for introducing us to two fabulous new cheeses! I’m always so excited to meet a new tasty treat!

Dessert was my contribution to the meal. After messing around with a few radical ideas involving all sorts of freezing and moulding, I went with something a bit easier to transport in the summer heat: an open peach tart flavoured with almonds and Saffron. I’m having a little love affair with Saffron, it’s delicate, subtle flavour fills the mouth and transports one to exotic places. Also, it helped turn the dessert a more pleasing shade of orange than the pale almond cream on its own.

For the pastry, I used half vegetable shortening, which I don’t often do (in fact the only time I usually allow hard veg fats is in mince pies at Christmas time) but wanted a pie a little more delicate to suite the saffron. Acidity in the Grapefruit juice also adds to the tender crumble of the crust.

Peach Tart with Almond Saffron Cream 2

Peach Tart with Almond and Saffron Cream

for the pastry:Peach Tart with Almond Saffron Cream 3

1¼ cups plain flour
½ tsp Fleur de Sel
small pinch plain salt
½ Tbsp Sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter, cut in to small pieces, chilled
¼ cup vegetable shortening, cut in to small pieces
2 Tbsp Grapefruit juice in about ¼ cup chilled water

for the almond saffron cream:

pinch saffron strands
2 Tbsp just boiled water
⅓ cup ground almonds
1 egg
⅓ cup sugar

2 or 3 peaches, pitted and thinly sliced

2 or 3 Tbsp sugar

– preheat your oven to 400˚F

– make the pastry:

– combine all dry ingredients well in a large bowl. Add chilled butter and shortening and work with your fingers gently until mix resembles oats porridge. OR place dry ingredients ands fats into your food processor and blitz a couple times to form porridge texture.

– add liquid, half at a time, until dough just begins to form. Heap onto a sheet of cling film, cover and form into a disc. Refrigerate, covered in plastic, for about half an hour.

– when dough is chilled, roll out on a floured surface and line a greased and floured pie dish (about 10 – 12 inches). Cover and refrigerate for at least 15 mins.

– blind bake the tart shell for 10 – 15 mins until just firm (to blind bake pastry: cover the raw pastry with a piece of baking parchment, cover with dry beans or rice to weight the paper down and bake for a few minutes. This stops the crust turning soggy once the filling is added)

– make the almond cream:

– in a little bowl (a soy sauce sushi bowl is perfect) soak the saffron strands in the hot water for about 10 mins

– beat together the ground almond, egg and sugar. Add the saffron water and one or two strands. mix well and refrigerate for about 10 minutes to firm the cream a bit

-pour chilled cream into tart shell, arrange peach slices on top, bake 30 – 35 minutes in your hot oven until the peaches are bubbling slightly and the pastry is a golden brown.

-Allow to cool to room temperature

-Just before serving, sprinkly top with sugar and caramelise using a blow torch or under a hot grill for afew minutes. Be careful not to burn the pastry!

– serve with a little dulce de leche or caramel sauce. We used a Butterscotch sauce with Jamacian Rum for something a bit more sophisticated. 🙂

*thanks to Jane for the use of her camera and some lovely pictures taken by herself

Peaches

Orange Dinner 1

Orange Dinner 2

 

 

Orange Dinner 3

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Wild Blueberry tarts with Marzipan

It’s been a busy weekend, jam packed (ahem, excuse the pun) with picnics, parks and outdoor activity. After a birthday party picnic on Saturday Mr P and I met with friends on the Toronto Islands for a day of sun and tennis and food. There’s something about picnicking, where you you snack all day and never really know just how much you’ve eaten or not, that leaves you feeling satisfied with life and full of the goodness of the earth. It is good to let your bare toes curl and flex in fresh, soft grass, and to let your skin turn golden in the sun under the SPF. I’m having a complete berry love affair at the moment, in case you hadn’t noticed, and my pet favourite has always been the wild blueberry, impossible to get back home or any time but Now, here in Toronto. One had better make the most of it! I throw them by the handful into cereals and buttermilk pancakes for breakfast, snack on them during the day and love doing up a batch of little tarts (or pies as they’re called here). Great for picnics, non? With these ones I threw a slice of marzipan on top of each before baking. Wow. Delicious. Just be sure to mention it to your feed-ees in case of nut allergies, advice I could almost have learned the hard way this weekend.

I was overcome with the berry-fever at the farmers market on Saturday. Everywhere you looked berries flooded the vision. I found myself unable to concentrate on anything the blue and red and yellow and magenta and black of berries berries everywhere. I arrived, as often happens, with a small list of things I need to pick up: just raspberries in this case, but end up, after am entranced, hypnotised hour, with almost more than I can fit into the basket of my bicycle. Now, again, I find myself in the predicament of what to do with all the berries I have sitting in pretty, green cardboard punnets on my counter. Berries don’t keep as long as, say, apples. I spent a couple hours yesterday making up a fresh batch of flavour-packed, irresistable on a spoon black currant jam and still have a couple punnets of small, green and maroon gooseberries to do coax into submission.

Blueberry tarts with Marzipan

Pate Brise:

1 cup all purpose flour
1½ cups Whole wheat flour
¾ tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
250 g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and chopped into small pieces
¼ – ½ cup ice cold water

filling:

3 cups wild blueberries
½ cup sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
juice from ½ a lemon
12 slices of marzipan, about 5mm thick

Preheat oven to 420˚F

for the pastry:
– combine sifted dry ingredients and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. The trick with pate brise is to work lightly and not blend the mixture too well, leaving chunks of butter. This keeps the pastry texture light when it bakes.

– add water, a bit at a time, until the dough only just comes together. Again, don’t mix too much. Divide dough into two pieces, flatten each into a round disc, cover in plastic and refrigerate at least half an hour.

– on a floured surface, using one disc at a time from the fridge, roll dough out to about 3mm thick and cut rounds to fit inside 12 well greased small pie or muffin tins (I used both)

– place lined tins in the fridge.

for the filling:
– mix berries, flour and sugar. Add lemon juice and mix until berries are coated in mixture.

– divide mixture between between pastry shells and top with a slice of marzipan.

– bake pies at 420˚F for 10 mins, then lower temperature to 350 and bake a further 15 mins or so, until the berries are bubbling and their juice starts to run.

Blueberry tarts with Marzipan

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blueberries.jpg

Though I’ve mentioned it as such, this is not in fact my first experience of Canada. I count it as a first with the eyes of an adult living in an adult world and dealing with all that goes with such.

A bunch of years ago I was a naive and dewy-eyed student living a year in Ottawa as part of the Canadian SWAP program. And a Student Working Abroad hardly qualifies as much of an adult. Working menial jobs to pay the rent, party on the weekends and backpack your way around the countryside may be spirit growing, but one hardly learns the lessons of mortgages and career development. What I did learn, however, on a hot and steamy mid-July afternoon in the wilderness near Pembroke, is that nothing tastes quite as much of Summer and holiday as a piece of wild blueberry pie.

I’ve been waiting since that steamy afternoon, when I sat for 15 mins and slowly devoured the Summer on the plate in my lap, for a chance to revisit the moment. We experience few enough moments that stay with us vividly for the rest of our lives. Your first kiss, your first day of high school, that moment in Namibia where you just knew He was Him. Through the Winters of Bristol and London and the years I spent back in Johannesburg’s blueberry-barren suburbs I thought back from time to time to that afternoon with the pie, mouth watering slightly, wondering if we’d meet again. And so when I saw the big quarts of wild blueberries at the organic farmers’ market last week, I knew my time had come and there was only one destiny for those berries. Perfect for a weekend at the cottage.

It was every bit as good as I remembered. It was Summer.

Wild Blueberry Pie

Wild Blueberry Pie

Pate Brise

1 quart (3 cups) wild blueberries, picked over and rinsed
½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
couple Tbsp butter

milk and egg beaten for glaze

– Make pastry. Line pie with thinly rolled pastry (about 3mm thick). Remember to roll a second disc for the cover. Refrigerate shell, about 15 mins before use.

– Mix berries, flour and sugar

– fill pie shell, dot with butter, cover with pie top. Brush with milk and egg mix. Fold ends under. Refrigerate until chilled, about half an hour

– cut steam vents into pie shell and bake at 425˚F for 20 mins. Reduce temperature to 350˚F and bake for a further 30 – 40 mins, until the juices are bubbling and the pie is golden. If the pastry starts to brown too quickly, cover loosely with foil.

blueberries-comp.jpg

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Berry Bowl

 

At the market on Friday, I was overcome completely by the astounding variety and sheer volume of delicious looking berries. Red currants! Strawberries! Raspberries! Cherries! Blueberries! Blackberries!

Ontario is a couple of weeks behind the States in terms of crop growth and even though we’ve been able to get fresh berries for a while now at the market, this time they were from the local area, fresher and sweeter looking than the previous punnets which have obviously had to be driven in from across the border. How could I resist? I couldn’t, not in the least, and ended up having to carefully, and delicately balance far too many berries in the basket of my bicycle, hoping the whole way home that the ones on the bottom wouldn’t end up a pulpy, juicy mess by the time I made it back. There are definitely downsides to deciding to travel by bicycle through the city. I can’t wait to get a rack and set of baskets on the back of my bike as well so I can do more shopping at one time.

I arrived home still grinning with the excitement of my find and unpacked all my purchases on the kitchen counter, only to stare in post-purchase disbelief at the pile left there. So many berries, and all so beautiful and tempting, but what was I going to do with them all? Surely they wouldn’t last the time it would take to think of something lovely to do with each of them and finish eating what was made. I couldn’t let them go to waste, and there was no concievable way I could have not bought them in the first place. Okay, so let’s look at what there is: red currants, sour red cherries, sweet black cherries, deep red raspberries, strawberries, green gooseberries and fresh rhubarb. Rhubarb is another thing I can’t seem to resist buying when I find it: it’s so rare and its season is so short.

When I saw the gooseberries,
I pounced on them immediately, berries-2.jpg
a slightly crazy, wicked glint in
my eyes. I’d been keeping a wary
eye out for these for a while now.
The reason is simple. In South
Africa, what I was brought up
believing was a gooseberry
(and which my Granny had a
bush of at her front door and
on which we feasted as children)
is actually known as a Cape Gooseberry,
though I’ve seen the same fruit
referred to as a physalis or a
ground cherry. I’d never seen
them before, but having read
about them in Jam Faced recently,
I couldn’t wait to see what all
the fuss was about.

Which led me to the decision to simple preserve a bunch of the fruit, before it could ruin, and have it ready to eat whenever the mood should strike. Jam! I was going to make jam! And it turned out to be a rainy Sunday today so what better way to pass the time?

Raspberry Orange Flower, Red Currant Sour Cherry and Gooseberry jams

I made three kinds:
a simple gooseberry jam,
which left me in no doubt
as to who the real gooseberry
is (yum!) a raspberry and
orange flower jam
,
which is so delicate
and delicious, I might end
up eating it by the spoon
and a red currant and
sour cherry jam
, which I left
quite tart and a bit runny
because I have a wicked plan
for its future… watch this space!

Jams are really easy to make, despite what you’ve heard to then contrary, and I love how making them reminds me so of my Gran.

With the rest I made some divine little strawberry and rhubarb tarts with a fresh custard, made slightly lighter than the previous post by using half milk half cream and the sweet black cherries are to become a cherry clafouti soon.

Of course, now I have three egg whites left over in the fridge from the custard, but again, you’ll have to wait to see what I do with those.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart w Custard

For the Strawberry Rhubarb Tart:

Pie Crust of your choosing. A vanilla one complements the strawberries well.

2 ½ cups chopped rhubarb (1cm pieces)
1 ¼ cups hulled and quartered strawberries
½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour

Preheat oven to 420˚F

– make pie crust, refrigerate for ½ hour before rolling out and lining 6 mini tart cases. Refrigerate 10 mins.

– mix pie ingredients in a large bowl. Allow to sit for a few minutes so that the fruit juices run out a little and soak up the flour and sugar. Mix a couple times until fruit is well coated.

– divide evenly between cold pie crusts, bake at 420˚F for 10 mins, then lower oven to 350˚F and bake for 45 mins.

Sour Cherries and Red currants

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Apricot and Stilton Pots

These are perfect for a brunch or a tea or just a little snacky thing. The apricot and cumin flavours really work well with the rich flavour of the Stilton. Good apricots are a difficult thing to buy. They’re such a delicate fruit, which bruise so easily when ripe, that the suppliers pick and ship them while green and let them ripen off the tree. When I was growing up we had some fruit trees on the property: peach, plum and apricot, and nothing compares to a hand-picked, quickly eaten apricot, warm from the sun. My gran used to make jam from the fruit, which could never compete with anything bought in a store. Of course, living on the 10th floor of a building in the middle of the city, makes growing your own a little difficult, so I’m making do with what I have and when I find some in good nick, I have no choice but to buy them immediately.Apricot and Stilton Pots

Apricot and Stilton Cups

Makes 12 small cups

Pastry
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp fennel seed, crushed
125 g butter, chilled
¼ to ½ cup chilled water

Filling
¼ cup ground almonds
1 egg
¼ cup sugar
62 g butter (3 Tbsp)
½ tsp Cumin
± 100g English Stilon cheese

6 fresh aprictots, halved and stoned

to make pastry: mix all dry ingredients well. Chop butter into 1cm cubes and blitz in the food processor, or rub with your fingertips until mix resembles breadcrumbs, or oatmeal. Add cold water and mix just until dough comes together. Separate into two even pieces, flatten into discs, cover with cling wrap and refridgerate about 20 mins

– on a floured surface, roll out one disc at a time to about 3 mm in thickness. Using a cookie cutter or a small bowl, but rounds a bit bigger than the diameter of your muffin tins. Grease each tin (or uses muffin papers) line with pastry and refrigerate the whole sheet for 10 mins.

– Blind bake the shells at 350˚ F for 7 – 10 mins. Allow to cool.

to make filling: Mix all ingredients except cheese with a beater until smooth. Crumble cheese into mixture and fold in gently

– fill each shell with about 1½ Tbsp of cheese filling

– top with half an apricot, skin side up

– bake at 420˚F for 20 – 25 mins until golden

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