French flan pastries

There are 3 main types of sweet French pastries used to make tarts and biscuits:

Pate Sucre  (which I used to make the base for the plum tart in my post “Recipes from Alsace”).

Pate Sable   (which I used to make the base for a cheesecake in my post “Cheesecake from Alsace”).

Pate Frolee  (with the addition of ground almonds often used to make a flat pastry disk).

 

 

These pastries are light and crisp. They are baked blind, filled with fruit and often with pastry cream.

The taste of homemade French pastry can’t be compared to any store-bought dough.

People are often afraid to make them on their own, but after some practice they realise it’s not that complicated.

Extra pieces of dough can be cut with cookie cutters and made into a small cookies (biscuits), or put into the freezer and used later.

Pate Sucre is a sweetened Pate Brisee (shortcrust pastry).

Pate Sable is a very rich pastry and because of its high content of sugar more delicate than pate sucre.

These French pastries are often put into a flan ring with a removable bottom.

 

 

Rules for making a French pastry:

All ingredients have to be at room temperature.

You have to work quickly.

You can make pastry by hand or with a food processor. A food processor is especially helpful when the weather is very warm, or if you have a warm hands.

A hot environment melts the butter in the pastry much faster.

If working with a food processor you have to be careful not to overdo it. Stop the machine when clumps just form.

Use unsalted butter.

Always sift the flour. This will remove any impurities as well as incorporate air and make the pastry lighter.

Pastries with a lot of sugar will turn brown quickly during baking so you have to watch carefully ( you can cover the edges with pieces of foil if they are browning quickly).

Chill pastry before rolling. This will relax the gluten and will prevent the pastry from shrinking when cooked.

Roll the pastry in short strokes, don’t stretch it.

If pastry was chilled for more than an hour it will need about 10 minutes at room temperature or it may crack if rolled.

If is difficult to roll the pastry you can put it in between sheets of cling film or baking paper.

If after baking the pastry is tough, it means it was overworked.

 

 

Making by machine:

If working with a food processor you have to be careful not to overdo it. Stop the machine when clumps just form.

Collect the dough into a ball and flatten into a small disk which will make easier to shape. Wrap it into a cling film.

 

 

Making by hand:

Cut the butter into pieces.

Sift the flour and salt on the working surface.

Make a well in the center and place the pieces of butter, sugar yolks and the vanilla.

With your fingertips of one hand using a pecking motion combine the butter, sugar and yolk.

Add little by little surrounding flour until it forms dough. All the flour has to be well incorporated but not overworked.. You have to work quickly.

Knead the dough with the palm of your hand pushing small portions of dough away from you.

Collect the dough into a ball and flatten into a small disc, which will make easier to shape later. Wrap it in cling film.

Refrigerate.

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Recipes from Alsace

Alsace is a small region in northeastern France bordering Germany and Switzerland. My main draw to it has been Alsatians passion for food as well their white wine, Gewutsraminer.

Their wine route goes through well preserved medieval villages with houses painted in pretty pale colours and windows filled with flowers.

Its proximity to Germany has influenced  ingredients in the dishes and their taste. Their food is very rich and pork is very often used as an ingredient. Tarts are  an important part of their sweet specialities.

I will write about other recipes from this region, but for this menu I chose Baeckeoffe, potato and meat casserole (picture doesn’t do justice to this dish, it is one of those recipes that tastes better than it looks). Baeckeoffe often includes pig feet(which adds the gelatinous consistency) but you can skip that ingredient.To complete the menu I prepared an onion soup, and a sweet plum tart, considering that plum season is in a full swing. I made pate sucre as the base of the tart. Pate sucre is a pastry that is used mainly to make tart cases or flans.

I served onion soup in small bowls.The key to a great tasting onion soup is to cook the onions really slow, until they become very soft and light brown in colour.

Baeckeoffe

serves 6

  • 500g lamb shoulder
  • 500g pork shoulder
  • 500g beef shoulder /chuck
  • 1kg /2 lb potato
  • 1leek (white part only)
  • 200g carrots
  • 1 big onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, lightly crushed
  • salt
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1 bouquet garni (spring of fresh thyme, parsley stalk, one bay leaf and celery stalk 5 cm long)
  • 1/2 bottle of Riesling

  1. Make bouquet garni(classic herb combination for stews and soups). Tie the spring of thyme, bay leaf and few parsley stalks in the groove of 5 cm/2 in of celery stalk with a kitchen string.
  2. Finely slice onions, garlic and leek into small rounds. Peel the carrot and slice into rounds.
  3. Cut the meat into 4cm / 1-1/2 in squares.
  4. Put the meat with leek, onion, garlic and bouquet garni into a plastic container or zip log bag.
  5. Add pinch of salt, peppercorns and  half of the wine.
  6. Refrigerate for  12 hours.
  7. The next day preheat the oven to 180C/350F.
  8. Peel the potatoes and slice into rounds.
  9. Remove the marinade from the refrigerator.
  10. Strain the marinade over a bowl ( don’t discard the liquid).
  11. Put half of potatoes into casserole dish.
  12. Add the strained content and finish with a layer of sliced potatoes and  some carrots. Pour over  marinade liquid from the bowl 2cm below the top layer of potatoes. Add more wine or water if needed. Cover with a lid and sealit with a thick layer of aluminum foil made into rope and shape around the casserole dish and lid.
  13. Original method calls for a seal made of  flour paste. Mix 140g /1 cup of flour with enough water to make a paste. Roll it into a rope long enough to wrap around the casserole.Press against the join between the lid and the dish.
  14. Bake for 3 hours.

Serve it with a simple green salad and the slice of bread. Casserole always tastes better the next day.

Onion soup

serves 4

  • 500g onions (about 4 medium)
  • 5og butter
  • 1 litres brown stock / 4 cups
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 4 slices of bread
  • Gruyere cheese

Slice onions into rounds.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions. Using a wooden spoon stir them to coat them with the butter. Reduce heat to low and slowly simmer untill very soft and golden brown. It can take 60 min, or longer.

Add the stock, pinch of salt and stir. Bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

Cut the  bread into small slices, cover them with grated cheese and put in  oven until bread is toasted and cheese melts.To serve  pour the soup into small balls and arrange the toasted slices of bead with melted cheese .

Plum tart

20cm tart tin

Pate sucre:

  • 150g flour
  • 75g butter (room temperature)
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 2 yolks (room temperature)
  • salt
  • 2-3 drops of vanilla essence

Filling:

  • 300g dark plums, just ripe but still firm
  • 70g granulated sugar
  • 140ml water
  • 2 tablespoons ground almonds

Glase:

  • 160 g appricot jam
  • 2 teaspoon water

All ingredients have to be at room temperature.

Sift the flour and salt.

In a food processor with a paddle attachment mix the butter, sugar and vanilla extract.

Add the beaten eggs and mix until incorporated.

Add the sifted flour in stages and as soon as dough detaches from the bowl stop (it will make clumps ).

Press clumps together and form a ball.

If using two smaller tins split the pastry in two parts.

Wrap it into cling film and leave in refrigerator for one hour.

Place the flan tin on a baking sheet.

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and  let it stand at room temperature for 10-15min to soften.

On a lightly floured surface roll pastry in-between two sheets of clingfilm or parchment paper.

Roll in one direction until 3 mm thick and 5 cm larger than the tin. If you use bigger tin roll the pastry slightly thicker.

Transferring the pastry to the tin can be a little tricky but with practice it will become easier.

Wrap the pastry loosely around the rolling pin. Carefully unroll the pastry allowing it to settle easily into the tin. Don’t pull the pastry or it will break. Press the pastry against the side  and base of the tin. If you need to patch it press the tears with your fingers.

Roll the rolling pin over the tin. Rolling pin will cut the excess dough. You can use the excess and roll it in a bowl and cover with a cling film. Put it into freezer and use later to make smaller tarts.

Put the pastry case into the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F.

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator. Line the pastry case with the baking parchment. Fill it with baking beans. You can also use dried beans.

Bake in the middle rack of the oven for 10 minutes, until the pastry is dry and lightly golden in colour. Carefully take the baking beans and the paper out of the tart case and lower the temperature to 180C. Return pastry to the oven for another 5 minutes watching that the pastry doesn’t turn brown.

Leave to cool on the rack.

Wash and cut the plums into quarters.

Make the light sugar syrup. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and on low heat dissolve the sugar. Bring to boil and continue boiling for about 3-4 minutes until it thickens slightly; put the plumsand let it cool.

Sprinkle ground almonds into a tart case. This will prevent pastry from becoming soggy. Then arrange the plums over it.

Bake on 180C for about 30 minutes or until fruit softens.

To make a glaze place the jam with the water in a pan and melt over low heat. Sieve. Using a pastry brash dab it over the tart.

Orecchiette-light pasta lunch

Orecchiette is a pasta that resembles a little ear or little hat; it has its origin in Puglia, in the southern part of Italy. Food in Puglia is simple, but tastes great. Orecchiette with broccoli rabe is one of the regions signature dishes (orecchiette con cime di rapa).

This pasta is a bit tricky to shape if made on your own and because it is time-consuming I recommend you buy it. More and more supermarkets carry it. Otherwise you can find it in specialized Italian markets.

I experimented with different ingredients and the recipe with ricotta and roasted black cherry tomatoes is my favorite. I briefly cook the tomatoes in olive oil and garlic so they become sweeter and lose their acidity. Black cherry tomatoes are tastier and less acidic than the regular bright red ones found in supermarkets.

As a side dish I included a colorful cucumber and peppers salad mixed with pie nuts and a light vinaigrette.

We are in the peak of  the peach season so I finished the menu with a poached doughnut peach and sponge cake dessert. Doughnut peaches are full of flavour and sweeter than regular peaches.

Orecchiette with black cherry tomatoes and ricotta

serves 4

  • 450g orecchiette
  • 350g black cherry tomatoes, or regular cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil (no extra virgin)
  • 12 tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • pepper
  • salt

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and reduce to medium heat. Cook for 13-15 min, or until al dente.

Exact time is marked on the package.

Halve the tomatoes. Mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add the tomatoes.

Add a pinch or two of salt and minced garlic. When tomatoes get softer add the shredded basil and cook for another minute.

Drain the pasta in colander.

Blend the ricotta cheese until smooth.

Evenly divide the pasta on the plates, add 3 tablespoons of ricotta cheese to each dish. Pour over the tomato sauce and extra olive oil if desired.

Bell pepper and cucumber salad

serves 4

  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 cucumber ( not  long English)
  • pinch of of salt ( or to your taste)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Halve the cucumber. With a teaspoon take the seeds out.

Turn the cucumber onto its curved side and slice into batons.

Cut batons into dices. Put on a side.

Cut the 2 or 3 lobes from each pepper and remove the seeds, membrane and stalk. Block off each lobe so that you can have regular shape.

Slice each lobe into strips, then into small squares. Put on a side.

Mix cut vegetables in a bowl. Add salt, pine nuts and basil.

Mix well.

Make the vinaigrette, mixing the sunflower oil and balsamic vinegar. Add to the salad.

Peach cake 

makes 4

  • 8 medium size honey peaches, or 4 regular peaches
  • sponge cake, home-made or store-bought
  • 4 tablespoon orange liquor
  • 120g granulated sugar
  • 240ml water
  • 2  tablespoon pistachio, crushed
  • 150ml whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon icing sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

On a very low heat dissolve sugar in water. Bring to the boil then put the sliced peaches in (in baches) and reduce to a simmer. Simmer  for one minute. Take the peaches out and peel the skin.

Bring syrup to gentle boil until slightly reduced and slightly thickened.

With a big cookie cutter cut the sponge cake to fit the bottom of the dish in which you will serve the desert.

I cut mine into 10cm / 4 inch circles to fit the bottom of my porcelain dish.

Sprinkle the bottom of each dish with orange liquid.

Put the sliced peaches on top  and pour sugar syrup over it.

Sprinkle crushed pistachio on top.

In a bowl beat cold whipping cream, vanilla and icing sugar. Serve with peach desert.

Here is a recipe if you like to make your own sponge cake.

  •  3 eggs, room temperature
  • 85g flower, sifted
  • 85g caster sugar
  • a pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190C / 375F.

Brush the bottom and sides of a shallow tin with a little oil, then line with a baking parchment. Brush it again lightly with oil.

Put sugar and eggs in a heat proof bowl.

Place the bowl over a bain-marie (pan of simmering water), making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Whisk until the mixture becomes pale and thick.

Fold carefully sifted flour into the egg mixture with a big spoon. Don’t overfold or the cake will not rise well.

Pour into a prepared tin.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 min or until golden and springs back when touched lightly.

Cool slightly in the tin, then turn out on the wire rack, lined with a baking parchment.

Peel of the lining paper. Cut into desired shapes.