Pastizzi a treat from Malta

I have always idolized exotic and historic Malta as a perfect Paradise destination. So it was a real treat to prepare one of it’s most popular snack foods, Pastizzi.

It’s time for the MENA (Middle Eastern & North African) Cooking Group. This monthly group has for goal to help us discover the culture and cuisine of the countries found in these parts of the world. The host of the month will choose a savory and a sweet dish from the country and the members pick one dish to make. Get your luggage ready as we are exploring Malta this month.

pastizzi

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Puffy Raspberry Almond Clafoutis

I have found a new fantastic group to join which offers sweet delights for everyone. The Behind the Curtain Dessert Challenge is all about baking sweets. Every month we are given to required ingredients to work with. This month it is almond paste and pastry. What a yummy combo!

camenbert 058

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5 Star Makeover Tea Party: Salmon Duo Napoleon with Crême Fraiche

This month’s 5 Star Makeover, hosted by the amazing 5 Star Foodie and Lazaro Cooks is another brilliant group presentation: A tea party. Each member was asked to prepare a nibble such as the ones you would find in a tea service.

The variant name of Napoléon appears to come from “napolitain”, the French adjective for the Italian city of Naples, but altered by association with the name of Emperor Napoleon I of France. However there is no evidence to connect the pastry to the emperor himself. The classic french Napoléon, or Mille Feuille, is a pastry consisting of with almond flavored paste.

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Epiphany’s Galettes des Rois Pistachio Style

OK class, today we will have a lesson in religion. January 6th is known as Epiphany, a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth as the living Son of God on earth. Over the centuries the specific events which testify to this revelation have varied a lot but for today’s Western Christians, the feast primarily commemorates the coming of the Magi, with only a minor reference to the baptism of Jesus and the miracle at the Wedding at Cana.

And of course, in some  parts of the world,  a dessert had to be created to celebrate this revelation. In parts of  France people have traditionally  prepared a Galettes des Rois, a cake consisting of puff pastry with almond cream (frangipane) to their celebrations. It is reminiscent of the King Cake found in the American Southern States that celebrate Mardi Gras. Hidden inside the cake you will find a trinket (usually a porcelain figurine) or a dry bean. The person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket becomes the king/queen for the day and will have to offer the next cake. The analogy of the king refers to the three kings drawn to visit Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Often a paper crown accompanies the cake which is placed on the chosen king/queen.

I am not a religious person but by pure coincidence I happened to host a dinner at my place with a few friends on the evening of January 6th so of course I had to make a Galettes des Rois for the fun of it. Without a small porcelain figurine or dry bean in sight I opted for a small button. The crown took the form of a tiara with pink marabou which I happened to have lying around (don’t ask). And since I had a hankering for pistachios this was my nut of choice for the frangipane. Hey traditions only survive with the addition of modern twists!

For my filling I adapted a recipe found on Pham Fatale. Since we were only 4 at the dinner table I made the galettes small enough to ensure there would be no leftovers should the trinket not be found on the first round. If you buy a package of frozen puff pastry this recipe will make 2 galettes of 5 to 6 servings each. You could just make 1 bigger galette, in that case roll you disks out to 12 inches.

Ξ Pistachio Galettes des RoisΞ

5 ounces roasted, unsalted pistachio nuts, shelled
2 eggs, at room temperature
10 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk
4 x 9 inch disks of puff pastry (1 package of frozen puff pastry 397 gr/14 oz)

Directions:

Place the pistachios in a blender, a food processor or spice grinder and process them until you have a coarse crumbs. Make sure you stop before it turns into nut butter.

Using a handheld mixer, whisk the eggs and 5 tablespoons of sugar for about about 5-6 minutes, until the eggs are a pale yellow and very airy.

Cream the butter with 5 tablespoons of sugar, the salt and vanilla extract. Pour in the egg mixture and the ground pistachios. Gently mix until the batter is smooth.

Using a fork, beat the egg yolk with a tablespoon of milk. Use as your egg wash as described below. Place 2 disks on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lay half the pistachio frangipane on each puff pastry disk, leaving a 1 inch ring of pastry. Brush the ring with the egg wash and place the remaining disks on top. Press the perimeter very tightly together. Using a knife, make decorative cuts on the top disks and brush with egg wash.

Refrigerate the galettes for an one hour. If you skip this step your filling may end up leaking out of the disks while baking (which happened to me). Preheat the oven to 400F, bake 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350F and bake 20 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden.

And in case you are wondering who was the lucky trinket finder this year. It was me! Yep I have the button in my mouth.

5 Star Makeover Strawberry Puff Pastry Pizza

Today is the 1st reveal day for….

hosted by 5 Star Foodie & Lazaro Cooks!

 

It really is an honor to be part of such a highly creative groups. And really what I like best with the 5 Star Makeover is giving everyone creative license on 1 theme: this month was the Pizza. Quite vague and challenging, the possibilities are endless. I cannot wait to see with everyone’s results.

For me, pizza is an occasional treat, not because of watching the calories but more as it is a food I do not crave much. But when I do get out of my way. Summer does not call out pizza to me so at first I was a bit stump for my concept. A sweet tooth I do have…ALL THE TIME.

A dessert pizza! Now we are talking. Which so many beautiful summer fruits in the market how can I not display one in all its glory on my crust canvas. And how about using a lighter ‘canvas’ too the the usual pizza dough. Puff pastry it had to be. Here is my gourmet pizza with a twist of strawberries to finish off a beautiful meal out on the porch.

Ξ Strawberry Puff Pastry Pizza Ξ

Ingredients

1 Frozen puff pastry sheet
1 egg yolk  mixed with a bit of water
1/2 cup strawberry jam
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tbsp sugar
fresh strawberries
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

   

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200C – 400F.
  2. Spread baking paper on a cooking tray and spray with oil.
  3. Thaw pastry. Roll out pastry into a large rectangle. Fold inwards a 1 inch edge of the puff pastry.
  4. Brush the pastry with an egg yolk wash and place tray in fridge for 10 minutes.
  5. Cut strawberries in half, set aside.
  6. Spread strawberry jam on tart.
  7. Spread the ricotta cheese over jam gently.
  8. Place strawberries on top of ricotta in even rows.
  9. Sprinkle with sugar and drizzle lightly with balsamic vinegar.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes until pastry is golden and puffed.

It was a superb treat indeed. The flaky crust was nice and light, the jam and ricotta where a perfect base sauce and cheese, the full fruit standing proud was melt in your mouth and I really enjoyed the special taste of the splash of balsamic vinegar over the strawberries. It was a winner all around.

A Breton Kouign Amann

I bowed out of this month’s Daring Bakers as I just had too much on my plate with the cold and with time/personal issues. Good news, the cold is getting better. Please accept this offering instead. And don’t forget to enter my California Walnut Contest before April 1st, 2011 1pm EST!

This Breton flaky pastry means Butter Cake and the recipe originally comes from the town of Douarnenez in France. Imagine taking the base of a bread dough but then rolling it out and folding in layers of butter and sugar. The baked result is a layered caramelized flaky caked.

I have never eaten one before (the one I just made) but I have been dreaming of it for years. I’ve heard tales of friends having enjoyed this dessert in the North of France that was basically flour, butter and sugar mixed together just enough to make a dough. It turns out with my research the process is slightly more complicated then mixing everything in a bowl.

Kouign Amann

Ingredients

  • 10 g yeast (not the instant stuff)
  • 200 ml warm water (just below 100°F) I had to add more after
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 500 g flour
  • 250 g half-salted butter
  • 1 beaten egg

Directions

1. Mix water with the yeast and a pinch of salt in a medium mixing bowl.

2. Add the flour and knead it until you have obtained a homogeneous ball. Let the dough  rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.

3. Roll out the pastry and distribute the butter over the whole surface. Powder with sugar and fold the sides over the dough, just like you do when making puff pastry.

4. Roll out the pastry again and repeat this operation four more times.

5. Butter a mold and place the pastry in it. brush the surface with egg. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes at 400°F or until golden. Cool a bit but remove from mold before any syrupy sugar hardens.

Puff pastry making and I do not get along, this is my third time doing the technique and I have no patience. I had butter popping out all over the place and it did not look pretty. But for this dessert IT’S OK, I just dealt with it and plopped my butter dough ball in the mold. Even if you do get it right this dessert will never win a presentation award. Its all about the taste. So don’t stress out if your butter is ‘farting’ out, go with the flow and improvise.

The verdict: Wow, everything  and nothing like I had imagined and more. Since my butter spurted out it did not quite flake so much but there are layers. More bread like in taste then expected but the intense butter/sugar combo is what I was dreaming of. As Julia Child said with enough butter, anything is good.

Sweet and Savory California Walnuts

I was just absolutely thrilled when I was contacted by the wonderful folks at Faye Clack Communications to try a sample of wonderful California walnuts. I have had wonderful review opportunities so far with this blog but I believe it was the first time I was offered such a raw product and I had already heard great things about these nuts. To my surprise I received an enormous bag of absolute fresh and sweet walnuts. I was giving away small samples to my friends I had so many.

Walnuts have been part of our diet for thousands of years. As a matter of fact walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man, going back to about 7000 BC. Walnuts are commonly featured in Greek and Roman lore and mythology. Seems our ancestors knew about the goodness of the walnut long before science proved the healthy benefits. Did you know that 3/4 of the fat found in the walnut is actually a cholesterol fighter? They are also packed with Omega-3s, they can reduce the overall risk of coronary heart disease, defend against some cancers and help ease symptoms of inflammatory diseases like arthritis. So keeping a bowl around to snack on is a pretty good idea!

I did not even know California grew nuts but apparently the mild climate and fertile soil is a perfect match. And I have to say these California walnuts were probably the best I have ever tasted: so fresh, almost chewy, lovely nutty flavor and jam packed with goodness. If you have extra remember to store them in a dry cool place. I put my leftovers in the freezer in an airtight container. A great idea when using older nuts is to toast them to bring out the flavor. Easiest way is to bake them at 350ºF for 5 to 7 minutes or until lightly browned.

Tip: sure you can chop your walnuts on a board with a big knife and have them fly all over the place. Or nothing beats the zip lock and rolling pin method. Make sure to take the air out of the zip lock before sealing it and wack away, great stress reliever too!

Not only are walnuts great on their own as a snack but they can be so versatile in recipes. You can add them to almost anything like salads, meats, sweets and veggies. The website provides a long list of fabulous walnut recipes but I went ahead and made my own recipes. I wanted to do both a sweet and a savory dish and I had puff pastry on my mind for both. The first is a Walnut and Mushroom en Croute which is a great vegetarian dish and fresh thyme does make all the difference here. I kept my walnuts fairly coarse so they added a lot of texture. For my sweet one I went with a Walnut Strudel: if you use dark chocolate like me it will not be too sweet so if you want a more chocolaty result go for milk chocolate.

Now if you want something savory….

Mushroom and Walnut en Croute

Ingredients:

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 minced onion
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 pound mushrooms, chopped
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 package puff pastry dough
1 egg

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 390 degrees F.

2. In preheating oven, spread walnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet and toast for 7 minutes, or until lightly browned.

3. In a large pan, cook onions and garlic in butter over medium heat until translucent. Add mushrooms, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until mushrooms are golden. Toss in walnuts and remove from heat.

4.Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the pan mixture in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet. Put the mushroom mixture in the middle.

5. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (fold sides in and then fold long flaps in making sure no filling can leek). Brush with the egg glaze. Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned.

and for something sweet….

Walnut Strudel from Chef in You

Ingredients:

1/2 cup dark chocolate
2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
cinnamon to taste
1/2 package puff pastry dough
1 egg

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. In a bowl melt chocolate with milk and butter in a microwave, 30sec. Stir well.

3. Roll out the puff pastry sheet on a floured surface and spread the chocolate mixture on the pastry leaving 1 inch clear.

4. Sprinkle the walnuts on the chocolate along with cinnamon. Roll it up like a jelly role and seal with egg.

5. Bake for 30-45min until golden brown. Remove and dust with cinnamon. Cut into slices.