Back from the edge!

My last article ended with a bit of a cliff-hanger for many of you. I’d not intended it to be thus, but I felt that continuing the article would have made it too long. For those of you who have not read the previous article, I am on a quest to recreate a recipe for nut braid – a delicious treat during my childhood days. In today’s article I’ll describe how I made my own croissant pastry and how I baked yet another nut braid with it.

Before I embarked on making my own croissant pastry, I checked several of my cookery books to compare the different recipes. Croissant pastry is similar to puff pastry – a basic dough which, to use the technical term, gets ‘laminated’ with fat (butter in this case) to create many separate layers. Croissant pastry differs from puff pastry in that the basic dough has yeast in it, giving it extra rise and a less brittle texture compared to puff pastry.

After reading through the various recipes, I decided to make the version found in Gaston Lenotre’s Desserts and Pastries, a book which I cherish for the precision of its recipes and its clear instructions, and for the fact that the results are always delicious! If you enjoy baking, it is a cookery book which I can highly recommend. It was published in 1981 and is long out of print, but you may be able to find a second-hand copy on the internet.

The ingredients for croissant pastry are very simple: flour, water, yeast, milk, sugar and butter. It’s the proportions of the ingredients and the technique which produce the magical results!

In the picture above you can see all the ingredients for the croissant dough:

18 g baker’s yeast dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsp of warm water, 50 g sugar, 15 g salt, 2 tbsp milk, 40 g butter, 125 ml water, 125 ml milk, 500 g flour, 260 g butter.

These quantities make enough dough for two nut braids or one nut braid and 15 croissants or some danish pastries. The dough is best made in a stand mixer, but you can also make it with a hand mixer or by hand.

Mix the sugar and salt with 2 tbsp of milk in a small bowl. Melt 40 g butter over low heat, add the 125 ml of milk and the water, and heat until lukewarm. Put the flour in your mixing bowl. On low speed add the sugar/milk mixture to the flour, then add the butter/milk/water mixture and beat for about a minute, then add the dissolved yeast and beat until a dough forms. It will be very light and lukewarm.

Cover the bowl (with a towel or lid) and let the dough rise for about an hour or until doubled in size. Can you see the difference in the picture below?

When the dough has “grown” sufficiently, remove it from the bowl and put it into a lightly floured shallow baking dish, patting it into an even thickness. Cover and refrigerate for two to three hours.

Half an hour before you continue to work on the dough, take half the butter (130 g) from the fridge and allow it to soften. When you are ready to start rolling, take the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured work surface. Roll it into a rectangle

Cover two thirds of the dough with the softened butter.

Fold the unbuttered third over the butter…

… then fold the double layer over the buttered part so that you end up with a neat rectangle and no butter showing.

Turn this parcel of dough 90 degrees to the left or right and roll it out again into a rectangle, then repeat the folding into thirds. The dough now consists of 9 layers! Now it’s time to cover the dough and return it to the fridge to rest for 2 hours or overnight. Remember to remove the remaining 130 g of butter from the fridge half an hour before you want to continue to work with the dough. Put the dough on a lightly floured work surface and repeat the buttering, folding and turning again. Roll the dough into a rectangle of 20 x 25 cm, cover it and return it to the fridge for an hour.

And there you have it: the croissant dough is ready!! I’m not sure of the maths, but the dough should now have 81 layers! To begin with, I was daunted by the prospect of all that rolling and folding, but it wasn’t actually that difficult! It was more a question of getting organised and getting the timing right.

With the dough ready and resting, it was time to prepare the filling ingredients for the nut braid: 100 g almonds, 100 g hazelnuts, 3 egg whites, 3 tbsp sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon. The egg yolks in the picture below are NOT used in the filling, they are only there to brighten up the picture! ūüôā

I used my trusted old mouli hand grater to grate the nuts – mine has three drums, one for fine, a second one for coarse grating, and a third for slicing. I ground the nuts coarsely as that gives a better texture to the filling. I also turned on the oven to pre-heat at 190 degrees Centigrade.

All the other ingredients were added to the grated nuts and mixed to a paste.

Next, I divided the dough into two halves after it had rested in the fridge. One half was wrapped and put back in the fridge (to be used for a second nut braid). I rolled the other half into a rectangle on a lightly floured surface, until the dough was about as thick as a 1 Euro coin. I spread the nut mixture evenly over the dough, using my fingers – I found that to be easier than using a spatula. Yes, I did wash my hands beforehand, and yes it was a little messy, but I washed my hands again afterwards! ūüôā

I rolled the dough from the short end, swiss-roll fashion, and pinched the seams together. My roll was a little long, so I cut some slices from each end, to make nut pinwheels. Then I cut the roll in half lengthwise…

… and twisted the two strands around one-another, with the cut sides facing upwards. Voila, the braid and the pinwheels ready on the baking sheet:

I baked the braid for approximately 40 minutes (the pinwheels were ready earlier). I left it to cool on a cake rack after it was baked, then iced it with a glaze made with 1 cup icing sugar, a little water and 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder. Here’s what it looked like:

It was really delicious – crispy edges, buttery pastry and a lovely nutty filling! The result was very close to what I remember from my youth!! Perhaps the next one will be perfection?? ūüôā

Are you tempted to bake this?

Experimenting…

The recent cold spell combined with rain and the curfew has meant that I have been less inclined to work in my garden. I put the spare time to good use though – I started to sort through some of the recipes that I had printed out over the years! I’d accumulated quite a stack of pages and it was high time that I went through them. Many ended up in the recycling bin: dishes that had sounded so appealing when I came across them on the internet, but which were never prepared, copies of recipes which I had printed off several times because they were really good, and recipes which I had made once but found not to be great. I now have a pile of recipes which are ‘keepers’ and another pile of recipes which I want to prepare before deciding whether to keep or discard. And there are only so many meals in a week!! ūüôā

Whilst searching for a certain recipe in my collection, I re-discovered another one which was given to my mother by Frau Sturm, a neighbour, 45+ years ago. It was for a nut braid, a sweet yeast dough with a nutty filling, something eaten in the afternoon with tea or coffee. The recipe was fairly rudimentary, a list of ingredients, the oven temperature, and an approximate baking time. I don’t remember if my mother ever made the nut braid, but I immediately remembered the nut braids we sometimes bought at one of the local bakeries when I was growing up – they were a rare treat and totally delicious!

I decided then and there that I would try to recreate those nut braids. I knew that I would never get them to match my memories, but it was worth a try!

For my first try I just went along with Frau Sturm’s recipe, making a yeast dough with 500 g flour, 250 ml milk, 20 g compressed (fresh) bakers’ yeast, 100 g sugar, 125 g butter, 3 egg yolks, a pinch of salt and a packet of vanilla sugar. The filling was made with 100 g almonds, 100 g hazelnuts, 3 tbsp sugar, 3 egg whites, 1 tbsp rum, 1/4 tsp cinnamon powder.

Once the dough had doubled in volume, I rolled it out into a large rectangle, about half a centimetre thick. For the filling, I ground the nuts and mixed all the ingredients together, then spread the filling on the rolled-out dough. Starting at the narrow end, I rolled the dough up jelly-roll fashion and pinched the dough to seal the roll. That done, I cut the roll in half lengthwise and twisted the two halves around one another. My largest baking sheet was barely large enough to accommodate the braid! Here is a picture of it before baking:

I baked it at 200 degrees centigrade for about 40 minutes. Once the braid had cooled, I iced it with a thick glaze made with icing sugar, cinnamon and water. Below is what it looked like when it was all done and ready to eat! ūüôā

The braid was very delicious, but it wasn’t quite like the ones I remembered from the local bakery. Those had a crispiness to them which mine did not have, and somehow the layers were separate where mine had kind of blended together.

I talked to my mother about the experiment and about how to achieve a result which was more like the ones from the bakery. She suggested using croissant dough, which is made more or less like puff pastry, but with yeast in the basic dough before it gets laminated (the technical term) with butter. Our local supermarket stocks croissant pastry – it comes ready rolled in cans! I bought two, unrolled the strips of dough to get my large rectangle, spread the filling over it and did the rolling, cutting and twisting as before. Here’s what it looked like before baking:

And after baking:

I was getting somewhat closer to the bakery result, the pastry was crispy on the surface, and the ratio of pastry to filling was better than in my first attempt. But there was still room for improvement!

I decided to make my own croissant pastry, and I’ll share the process and results with you in a future post!!

The best laid plans…

Sometimes the best intentions get you nowhere and the best laid plans fall apart. ¬†It’s been like that with this week’s blog post!¬† I planned to write a new article about the French custom of eating galette des rois during the month of January. ¬†I’d found a great recipe for a¬†galette au chocolat on the Valrhona website (in French), and I was going to make that and show you the process and the results on the blog. ¬†And then life intervened in the shape of the music festival that I help organise, and the¬†galette never got made.

But to keep with my plan to post an article every other week, here is a re-run of an article from 2014 about¬†¬†regular galette des rois –¬†I hope you’ll enjoy it just as much.

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In France, Twelfth Night is celebrated with the galette des rois Рa wonderful confection of buttery puff pastry, which is filled with almond frangipane.  The galette is usually eaten with friends and/or family, and can be found for sale in French bakeries throughout the month of January.  A small feve (bean or charm) is usually hidden in the filling, and the person who finds the feve in his or her slice is crowned king or queen for the day.  The feve can take all sorts of forms, from a simple dried bean to a porcelain figure such as this:

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If you don’t live anywhere near a bakery where you can buy a ready-made¬†galette des rois, here is how to make your own. ¬†The basic ingredients are very simple, especially if you buy the puff pastry ready-rolled: butter, almonds, sugar, cornflour, eggs. ¬†I’ll be listing quantities at the end of this post as a printable recipe. ¬†I had planned to add some dried yuzu (Japanese citrus) peel to the filling, which is in the yellow packet. ¬†In the end I decided against it.

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To make the frangipane filling, beat the soft butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.

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Add the eggs and beat until incorporated.

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Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet. ¬†I used the bottom of a cake pan (25cm diam) to cut a neat circle, as the rolled sheets are always slightly oval. ¬†Spread the apricot jam on the base to within 2 cm from the edges…

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…and top with the frangipane mixture.¬† Don’t forget to put the feve into the frangipane filling!

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Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zigzags or diamonds Рwhatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

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Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven (200C, 185C fan, gas 6) for 25 to 30 minutes.  When it comes out of the oven it should look somewhat like this:

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Leave the galette to cool to lukewarm, before you cut it!

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A few notes on the recipe: ¬†I’m not sure whether I’ll be using the apricot jam the next time I make this. ¬†I thought the tartness would complement the rich filling, but having tasted it, I’m not sure that it does. ¬†You could roast the almonds before grinding them. ¬†If you prefer a more pronounced¬†almond flavour, you could add almond essence to the frangipane. ¬†I brushed on too much of the beaten egg so that it went over the edges of the pastry, which stopped it from rising correctly.

Galette des Rois

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:
2 rounds of ready rolled puff pastry
2 tbsp apricot jam
100g butter at room temperature
75g caster sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
125g ground almonds
1 1/2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp amaretto or brandy
1 beaten egg for glazing

Pre-heat the oven to 200C – fan 185C – gas mark 6

To make the frangipane filling, beat the softened butter with the sugar until white and fluffy.  Add the egg and egg yolk and beat until incorporated.  Add the ground almonds, cornflour and amaretto or brandy, and stir until well mixed.

Unroll one sheet of puff pastry and put on a lined baking sheet.  I used the bottom of a cake pan to cut a neat round (the rolled sheets are always slightly oval).  Spread the apricot jam on the base, to within 2 cm of the edges, and top with the frangipane mixture.

Unroll the second sheet of puff pastry, and trim again.  Moisten the edges of the base with water and place the second sheet on top.  Press the edges to seal in the filling.

Mark the top of the pastry with a pattern of your choice:  spirals, zig-zags or diamonds Рwhatever you like.  Glaze the top with beaten egg, which will give the finished galette a wonderful shiny finish.

Bake the galette in a pre-heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  Leave to cool to lukewarm before cutting.

It’s virtually Easter!

We’re in our fourth week of lockdown in France! ¬†With lockdowns in place in numerous countries worldwide, it will mean that many people will be celebrating Easter this year very differently compared to previous years! ¬†The churches will be closed, large family gatherings are out of the question, and even family walks are restricted. ¬†I’ll be taking it in my stride, but I feel for those whose lives are being disrupted by being confined to their homes!

I’ll be following some of my Easter traditions such as dyeing hard-boiled eggs:

baking Hot Cross Buns:

and baking a cake in the shape of a lamb:

I will probably prepare Easter lunch using lamb, though this time I won’t leave the shopping to the last minute, as I did back in 2012!! ūüôā ¬†You can read my story of that Easter lunch here.

The town of Perpignan won’t be holding its traditional Good Friday procession, but you can have a look at what you’ll be able to see next time you visit around Easter!

Traditionally, families in our area of France (and perhaps in other areas of France too?) will go for a walk on Easter Monday to pick wild asparagus for the Easter omelette. ¬†This year being different, perhaps the omelette may have to be made with bought asparagus, but I’m sure the traditional omelette will be eaten!!

Do you have any Easter traditions you’d like to share?

Hot and cross

Since today is Good Friday, I thought I should ¬†write about Hot Cross Buns for today’s post. ¬†I looked at recipes in several cookery books: ¬†Elizabeth David’s¬†English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Angela Piper’s¬†The Archers’ Cookbook, and Reader’s Digest’s¬†Farmhouse Cookery: Recipes from a Country Kitchen. ¬†For good measure, I also looked at Felicity Cloake’s recipe for Hot Cross Buns on the Guardian website.

The origins of¬†the hot cross bun are somewhat hazy – Elizabeth David has not a great deal to say about the history, and other articles on the subject don’t offer much more. ¬†During Elizabethan times a law was passed forbidding the sale of spice buns except at funerals, on Good Friday and at Christmas. ¬†Elizabeth David does not relate whether the spice buns sold on Good Fridays in Elizabethan times had a cross on them, but she’s fairly categorical in her dismissal of putting a cross on the buns in pastry or with candied peel as “unnecessary fiddling work”. ¬†I do love her no-nonsense style of writing!!

I also love Elizabeth David’s sweet spice mixture, which she gives in her book. ¬†It consists of two parts nutmeg, two parts white or black peppercorns or allspice berries, one part cinnamon bark, one part cloves and one part dried ginger root. ¬†I mis-read the recipe, or perhaps wanted to, and added white peppercorns AND allspice berries! ūüôā

My new kitchen scales seem to be fairly precise, so I weighed the nutmeg and used that weight as the basis for the other spices.  My small electric coffee grinder did a great job of reducing the spices to a fine powder.  The smell of the ground spices was divine and filled the whole kitchen!

Once I had studied the recipes on my kitchen table very carefully, I decided to use the proportions of Felicity Cloake’s recipe, but with some modifications. ¬†In her recipe, the milk is heated and left to infuse with the spices – I used Elizabeth David’s spice mix and added it to the flour. ¬†Instead of regular white wheat flour, I used Type 130 spelt flour, which is not quite white but not quite wholemeal either. ¬†Felicity Cloake’s recipe also had the highest amount of currants, so I reduced their weight a little, to 125g. ¬†Other than that, I followed the ingredients of her recipe.

I made the dough at lunchtime, so it could have a slow rise during the afternoon. ¬†After the initial mixing I let the dough sit for five minutes so that the flour could absorb the liquid. ¬†After that “hydration” period, the dough was still a little too soft for my liking, so I kneaded in an additional three tablespoons of flour. ¬†Then I covered the bowl with a lid and let the yeast cells do their work!

At the end of the afternoon, the dough was well risen and had a lovely aroma!  The partially deflated dough looked like this, you can see lots of air bubbles around the edges:

The currants and mixed peel were kneaded into the dough after it was deflated.

Then it was time to portion out the dough.  I weighed the entire dough and then divided it into 16 individual portions, weighing about 70g each.

I shaped the pieces of dough into balls and flattened them slightly. ¬†Once I had my two baking trays filled with the buns, I used my dough scraper to cut a cross into eight of the buns – pushing the straight side of the dough scraper right through and effectively cutting the buns into quarters. ¬†As the dough was quite soft, the cuts ‘healed’ up again but stayed visible. ¬†On the other eight buns I used a knife to cut a cross into the top of each bun.

Whilst I was doing the shaping of the buns, I had turned on my oven on the defrost setting, which warms to 50 degrees Рperfect for proofing yeast dough.  Once the buns were shaped, I turned off the oven and put the trays in.  It was just a little warmer than in my kitchen, and produced beautifully risen buns within 30 minutes.

Once the buns were risen enough, I mixed a couple of tablespoons of plain flour and some water into a stiff-ish paste and put it into a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle.  Then I piped crossing lines on the buns.  I had prepared some egg-wash to brush the buns with before piping on the cross, but forgot to do that Рoh no!!

Some of the buns which I had cut with the dough scraper did not get a cross piped on – I had run out of the mixture. ūüė¶

I put the trays into the cold oven and turned it on to 200 degrees centigrade. ¬†With yeast dough, I have found that starting with a cold oven can produce wonderful “oven spring”, as the yeast goes into overdrive before being killed off by the heat. ¬†After 10 minutes the buns had puffed up nicely and were starting to brown. ¬†I removed one baking sheet at a time and brushed the buns with egg wash, before putting them in the oven again. ¬†After a further 10 minutes the buns were fully cooked and there was the most beautiful smell permeating the whole house!! ¬†If only this could be a scratch-and-sniff post!!

Traditionally, the buns should be brushed with a sugar glaze as soon as they come out of the oven. ¬†I have done this in the past, but I found that it makes the buns sticky and doesn’t add much more than that, so I gave it a miss this time.

What special foods will you be eating this Easter?

Melting moments

You may know that I adore chocolate in all its forms: on its own, in desserts, in cakes, Belgian chocolates – you name it, I’ll probably have eaten it!! ¬†ūüôā

Many years ago, I ate the most wonderful fondant au chocolat¬†in a restaurant. ¬†A fondant au chocolat¬†is a¬†chocolate pudding with a melting interior!! ¬†I’ve been intrigued ever since, and a few weeks ago I decided to make some at home, purely in the interest of research on your behalf, you understand!! ūüôā

I searched the internet for recipes, and finally settled on this one from the BBC Good Food website.

The ingredients were very simple:  butter, eggs, sugar, flour, a little coffee, some cocoa powder and, of course, chocolate!!

The preparation was not difficult either.  To start with, I brushed the moulds with melted butter and dusted them with cocoa powder.  The recipe specified dariole moulds or individual pudding basins, but omitted to give an idea of the size.  I had some dariole moulds, so used two of them, and I replaced the individual pudding basins with ramekins.

Next, I put the butter to melt over a very low heat, then added the chocolate pieces to that.  While the chocolate was melting, I beat the eggs with the sugar until they were very fluffy and thick.

I added the melted butter/chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs, and mixed the two, then added the coffee and the flour, and folded everything together until well blended.

My mixing bowl had a pouring lip, so it was very easy to fill the moulds.  The recipe called for six moulds РI managed to fill the two dariole moulds and five ramekins.  The darioles are kind of small, so the ramekins might have been the right size.

I cooked the two darioles right away.  The ramekins all went in the fridge.

After exactly 12 minutes, the puddings were well risen!

I ran a knife around the inside of the mould to help ease them out,  and served them with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

The fondants were very delicious Рthe interior was still squishy, although not as runny as on recipe photograph.  Next time, I would reduce the cooking time for the dariole moulds by a minute or two.  They would probably turn out to be100% perfect.

A couple of days later, I cooked three of the larger ones, the ramekins that I had put in the fridge.  After 12 minutes cooking, the fondants turned out almost exactly like on the picture in the recipe!!

I have two more in the freezer for another day!!

Have you tried making these delicious puddings or something along the same lines?  Do you have your own foolproof recipe?