Pies & Tarts


It is hard not to fall in love with the all-sensory feast that is Provence.

The heady scent of lavender, rose and jasmine, that envelops Grasse, perfume capital of the world.  The gentle sound of the beach that lures you to bathe in the soothing sunshine along the French Riviera.  The aromatic flavour of fresh seafood at a small, yet lively, fishing village near Marseille.  The picturesque markets that boast local produce that burst in seasonal taste and fragrance.  The sweeping landscapes, majestic fields, orchards and vineyards, that embrace you along your journey.

It is no surprise when I recount my trips to France – and travels around the regional areas – that Provence has featured most prominently.  From Avignon in the west to Nice in the east, and passing through a land of contrasting terrain in between, for me, it was love at first sight.

Back home, it is fruitless not to dream of returning to this spectacular part of the world.  But until then, I have my sun-drenched tarte aux abricots to warm me with memories.

{ Apricot Tart } Recipe courtesy Jacques Torres

* Ingredients *
2/3 recipe Pate Sablée, recipe follows
1/2 recipe Almond Cream, recipe follows
10 Fresh Apricots (or canned)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

* Directions *
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Roll the dough into a 12-inch diameter circle that is about 1/4-inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 10-inch tart pan by rolling the dough around the rolling pin. Line the tart pan with the dough. Dock the dough and set aside.   Make the almond cream. Spread a layer of almond cream inside the tart. Pit and quarter the fresh apricots. Arrange them on top of the almond cream by standing them on end. Sprinkle slivered almonds on top of the tart and bake for about 40 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

{ Pate Sablée }

* Ingredients *
1/4 cup almond flour
Scant 2 cups cake flour
Generous 1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
Pinch salt
3/4 cup powdered sugar
l large egg

* Directions *
Place the almond flour, cake flour and cold butter in the mixing bowl and mix until combined. Add the salt and powdered sugar. Mix until combined. Add the egg and mix until combined. Shape into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 1 hour to chill dough. Roll the dough to the desired size on a lightly floured work surface. Baking instructions vary and will be specified in any recipe using this dough. The dough will keep, well wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for 1 week or in the freezer for 1 month. Thaw the dough in the refrigerator until ready to use. If you want to store the dough already rolled into a tart pan, wrap it in plastic wrap.  Yield: enough for 2 (10-inch) tarts

{ Almond Cream }

* Ingredients *
To make almond flour:
1 cup (125 grams) slivered almonds
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon room temperature unsalted butter
1 large egg

* Directions *
It is possible to buy almond flour (use 1 cup if you do) but it just as easy to make your own. Place the slivered almonds (no skin preferred) and granulated sugar into the food processor. Pulse until the almonds and sugar reach the consistency of flour. It is best to pulse because the heat of the blade will cause the release of the oil from the almonds.  Mix in the flour. Mix in the butter. Add the egg and mix until the mixture becomes light and creamy. Do not overmix or the gluten in the flour will overdevelop and the almond cream will lose its delicate texture when baked.  Yield: 1 3/4 cups

6 to 8 servings

Far Breton

‘My grand-mère is the best cook in Brittany,’ the child exclaimed defiantly, crossing her arms and eyeing her schoolyard friend.  ‘Not possible, you lie.  My grand-mère makes the best food around,’ boldly cried the opposing child.  Onlookers watched the banter back and forth and knew neither child would back down.  For in Brittany, every grand- mère was the best cook.

This custard tarty cake, studded with rum soaked prunes, is a speciality of the Brittany region and a quintessential dessert from this picturesque area of France.  It is creamy, dense and smooth, and comes by way of my lovely French friend, Ms Couzelin

Ms Couzelin, my macaron-taster cum work colleague, grew up in Brittany, the most western province of France.  Until the age of 20, she would visit her grand-mère almost daily when living close by; each Thursday practically running to the house for her weekly lesson in crepe making (another speciality of the Brittany region).

Marie, her grand-mère, would make Far Breton frequently.  Mostly when milk was plentiful – or on request.  Ms Couzelin still makes it now when she wants to recreate a dish, from home.  She recollects helping her grand-mère in her kitchen, and sometimes sneaking tastes when no one was looking.  Remembers family gathered around enjoying the Far for dessert, breakfast or for a coffee break.  Seated on benches around a heavy, wooden farmers table, or in grand-mère’s kitchen.

I feel blessed to have the recipe that Marie only shared with her granddaughters, sometimes strangers, but never her neighbours! 

Ms Couzelin, merci beaucoup pour ta recette.

{ Far Breton aux Pruneaux } from Ms Couzelin’s grand-mère, Marie

* Ingredients *
2 tablespoons rum
150g pitted prunes
150g plain flour / all purpose flour
½ litre or 2 cups whole milk
Pinch salt
100g sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

* Directions *
Heat the rum in a small saucepan and slowly heat the prunes for 2-3 minutes.  Set aside.  Preheat the oven to 200C or 400F. Butter a shallow 6-cup baking dish. Add the flour and salt to a large bowl.  Add half the milk and slowly whisk to a paste.  Whisk in the remaining milk until smooth.  Add the sugar and continue to whisk.  Crack the eggs and one by one, add to the batter.  Finally, add the vanilla.   Whisk until completely smooth.  Drain the prunes from the rum and scatter on the bottom of the dish.  Pour the batter on top.  Bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until risen, golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Brioche tart sinle

I could smell the sweet scent well before I saw them.  As I walked closer, the perfume became much stronger.  Then, they were upon me.  My eyes quickly darted from side to side to take them all in.  Row upon row of fuzzy little peaches.  With a smile I reflect to myself, summer is almost here.

I usually avoid buying stone fruit this early in the season.  Inevitably, I am disappointed from the very first bite.  Too tart.  Too tasteless.  Too dry.  But something was urging me to throw caution to the wind this day.  So I bought the peaches.

I am glad I did.  Back home, I quickly got to work preparing a caramel inspired dish to showcase this fragrant fruit.  When flipping through Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan, I hit gold.  A recipe by Nancy Silverton that incorporated all the right elements for caramel month. Brioche Tart with White Secret Sauce. 

The egg rich bread is filled with creamy custard, topped with a tangy sabayon sauce, and served with caramel poached fruits.  During caramel month, I mostly have included examples of creamy and crunchy caramel, so I was keen to include the perhaps less obvious clear caramel into the mix.  The caramel poached fruit in this recipe was a simple way to feature this option.

My favourite part of this recipe – apart from the taste, of course – was the volcanic-like reaction during the sauce process when adding the wine to the caramel.  Try it, and you will see what I mean.  Oh, but be really careful.

We enjoyed this tart for a sweet weekend breakfast alternative to the typical pancake or waffle options.  It would also be a delicious dessert.  The fruit cuts the creaminess of the sauce and tart well, and would certainly be the perfect finish to a meal.

Brioche tart set

{ Brioche Tart with Caramelised Fruits } recipe adapted by Nancy Silverton from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

I made one significant change to the original recipe.  I selected to use the Brioche dough from Dorie Greenspan’s, Baking: From my Home to Yours.  I was a little short on time so this was a speedier option.  I also elected to include some dried apricots for the fruit selection to complement the aromatic peaches.

* Ingredients *
Brioche dough, chilled
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup whole milk, just warm to the touch
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Custard
1 cup creme fraiche homemade or store-bought or sour cream
1 large egg
1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg white, beaten
Crystal sugar, for sprinkling

Sauce
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, preferably Tahitian
1/3 cup water
2-1/4 cups dry white wine
4 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

Fruit
Assorted ripe but firm fruits, such as apricots, peaches, nectarines, and/or plums or assorted dried fruits, such as raisins, prunes, apricots, and/or peaches
Chopped toasted blanched almonds
Confectioner’s sugar

* Directions *
Put the yeast and warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and fit the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one.  Working on low speed, mix for a minute or two, just to get the ingredients together.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 7 – 10 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl and the hook, until the dough is stretchy and fairly smooth.  The dough will seem fairly thin, more like a batter than a dough, and it may not be perfectly smooth – that is fine.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, 30 – 40 minutes.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap into the bowl.  Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator.  Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours.  Then if you’ve got the time, leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight – it will be tastier for the wait.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and butter a 1-1/4-inch-high 10-inch flan ring or the ring of a 10-inch springform pan.

Gently work the dough into a ball, flatten it into a 5-inch disk, and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a circle that’s at least 1 to 1-1/2 inches larger than the flan ring. If your circle is ragged, trim it to an even round.

Centre the flan ring on the dough and press down on the ring gently so that, when lifted, it leaves a clear impression. This impression will be your crimping guide. Keeping the fingers of your left hand (right, if you’re left-handed) against the guideline, lift a little of the dough from the edge with your right hand and fold it over so that it falls about 1/4 inch past the guideline. In this position, you should be able to pinch the dough between the index fingers of both hands and crimp it. Twist your fingers slightly and the dough will have an attractive diagonal crimp. Work your way around the tart and don’t be concerned about getting it just so-as luxurious as this custard-filled brioche will be, it is still a simple, rustic tart.

Place the flan ring on the parchment-lined baking sheet and lift the dough up and into the ring. Work your fingers around the crimped edge, pressing your fingers into the dough so that you lift up the thick, crimped edge a bit and firmly press down the base of the dough.

Let the dough rise, uncovered, at room temperature until it doubles in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Centre a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 275F.

Whisk the creme fraiche and egg together in a small bowl and keep close at hand.

Press your fingertips into the dough, covering all of the tart, except for the crimped edge, with abundant and deep dimples-don’t be afraid to press your fingers down almost to the bottom of the pan. Spread the creme fraiche mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart, going right up to where the crimping begins. Sprinkle 1/3 to 1/2 cup sugar over the custard.

You’ll know how much sugar to use because the custard will tell you-it will only absorb a certain amount. Stop when it appears that the custard won’t take any more.

Brush the crimped edge of the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle it with crystal sugar. Bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is just about set. The custard should be a little loose; it should jiggle slightly when you shake the pan gently. Remove to a cooling rack. A few minutes after the tart comes from the oven, slide a cardboard cake round under the tart and lift off the ring. Serve the tart slightly warm or at room temperature, with or without the sauce and fruit garnish.

To make the caramel syrup for the sauce, put the sugar into a heavy-bottomed medium skillet with high sides or a saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the soft, pulpy seeds into the pan, and toss in the pods. Pour in the water-it should be just enough to cover the sugar-but don’t stir. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil. Now you can either cover the pan for a couple of seconds to wash down any sugar that has crystallized on the sides of the pan or you can wash them down with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

As the caramel continues to cook, you’ll notice that the bubbles will get bigger and shortly after that you’ll see the first sign of colour-there is always a hot spot. As soon as the caramel starts to colour, begin to swirl the skillet gently over the heat. Keep cooking and swirling frequently until the caramel is a deep gold test-test the colour by putting a drop of the caramel on a white plate. It probably will take 7 to 10 minutes to get the right colour.

When you’ve got the colour you want, immediately remove the pan from the heat and add the white wine. Stand back as you pour in the wine because the caramel will bubble and sizzle -it will also seize and harden. Return the pan to the heat and bring the syrup to the boil again to melt the caramel. Pour 1-1/2 cups of the syrup through a strainer into a heatproof measuring cup. Reserve the remaining syrup in the pan; you’ll use it to cook the fruit garnish.

Put the yolks into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (or use a heatproof bowl) and, whisking constantly, drizzle in the hot caramel. Put the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water-the water should not touch the bottom of the bowl-and whisk without stop until the yolks are voluminous and almost too hot for you to stand when you dip your finger into the mixture: This should take at least 5 minutes, but the yolks may need as long as 8 minutes of heat and constant stirring. (If the eggs start to cook, a bad sign, or are heating unevenly, lift the bowl out of the pan, whisk for a few seconds off the heat, and then return the bowl to the heat and continue to whisk.)

Attach the bowl to the mixer, fit the mixer with the whisk attachment (or use a hand-held mixer), and beat the yolk mixture at medium-low speed for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture is cool to the touch, pale in colour, and about tripled in volume. The bottom of the bowl should feel cold and the mixture should have the look of whipped mayonnaise. Gently fold in the whipped cream. The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

If you are using fresh fruits, slice them. If you are using a selection of dried fruits, dice the fruits, soak them in hot water to plump them, and then drain them. Pat them dry before using.

Bring the caramel-wine syrup to a boil in the skillet in which it was made. Add the fruit and swirl the pan. Cook the fruit, swirling the pan and stirring the fruit as needed, until the fruit is softened.

To serve, place a slice of the tart on each plate (this would be nice on largish plates). Spoon on some of the sauce and the caramel poached fruit, lifting the fruit from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and decorate the plate with a shower of toasted nuts and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Although the sauce can be made ahead, and the dough must be made in advance, the tart must be served the day it is made.

Serves 8 to 10

Pastry month round-upWhether an elegant or casual dessert, or simply an afternoon treat, I have re-familiarised myself this month with the fact there is quite simply a pastry for all occasions.  I only made a very small selection, but it has been enough to reignite my interest in pastry – and ensure I continue to include a pastry sampling (or two!) in my ongoing baking repertoire.

Until then, here is a summary of the basic pastry recipes I tackled during my pastry month, and my selected pastry desserts.  I hope you enjoyed some pastry of your own this month, too!

puffPâte feuilletée (or puff pastry) is the king of pastry.  Light, buttery and decadent.  The version by renown chef Jean Millet is outstanding.  Puff pastry is time consuming to make, but you are certainly well rewarded for your efforts.

tarte:: Tarte Tatin ::
This French classic is the ultimate dessert.  Simple yet impressive.  The taste is utterly sublime when made with an all-butter homemade puff pastry.  A winner for every baker.  { Read more here }

  

mille:: Mille Feuille ::
Mille Feuille, Napoleon, Vanilla Slice.   There are many names for this messy-to-eat-but-oh-so-finger-licking-good pastry.  Guaranteed to be all consumed within minutes.  { Read more here }

 

chouxThe lightest of all the pastries, pâte à choux (or choux pastry) can be transformed into an elegant croquembouche or a simple profiterole or éclair. 

eclair:: Chocolate éclairs ::
The simplicity of the chocolate éclair certainly does not translate to boring.  The addition of a light vanilla pastry cream and rich chocolate ganache glaze, provides a classic and mouth-watering dessert.  { Read more here }

 

sucreeJulia Child’s timeless recipe for pâte sucrée (or sweet tart pastry) creates a spectacular vehicle for any sweet tart.

basil:: Lime-Basil Tart ::
The traditional citrus tart is given a twist with the addition of fresh basil.  The fragrance from the basil is subtle but brings out the zesty overtones of the limes.  These flavours pair especially well with a basic sweet tart pastry.  { Read more here }

 

sableeCrumbly and buttery, pâte sablée is melt-in-your-mouth good.  This rich, sweet pastry has a delicate crisp and crumbly texture that seems to enhance the depth of any filling.

strawberry:: Strawberry and Pistachio Tart ::
The pistachio tart pastry produces an incredible aroma when baking.  The nuttiness of the pastry is a lovely complement to the creamy berry filling.  It is a perfect tart for a casual lunch with friends.  { Read more here }

 

briseeThe most basic of pastry.  An all-round baking basic.

cloudberry:: Orange-Spiced Cloudberry Galettes ::
Pâte brisée is made distinctive by Sherry Yard with the inclusion of cinnamon, ginger and orange.  The simple galette is quick and easy to prepare.  Perfect for an afternoon snack.   { Read more here }

Orange Spiced Cloudberry Galette

This was a big day for me.  Why?  Today, I ran my first 10km race.  In fact, today I ran 10km for the first time ever.

Well, actually, I probably should clarify that statement.  When I say run, I in fact mean a jog-so-slow-you-inevitably-have-people-constantly-passing-you.  And when I say jog, I mean my level of exertion when not taking absolute and complete advantage of a well-deserved rest every now and again at water stops along the way.

During my race, I tried to keep my mind distracted.  Once I start thinking about what I am actually doing, the game is up.  Not surprisingly, I thought about baking.  I pondered that I would prefer to be making pâte feuilletée for six hours, rather than run for just over an hour.  I then also thought about my outstanding pastry for the month.  Pâte brisée.  More specifically, I was creating these mini galettes in my mind.

Recently, I found some cloudberry jam.  My first experience of cloudberry was last year, in Finland.  I sampled cloudberry ice-cream – a popular local favourite – and instantly loved the unique flavour.  The orange coloured berry has a distinct tartness, and paired so well with creamy vanilla ice cream.  In Finland, they often eat cloudberry with Leipäjuusto, a squeaky cheese similar to haloumi.  With this in mind, I was originally planning of complementing the cloudberry jam with ricotta, in a similar manner to a crostata di ricotta e marmellata (jam and ricotta tart).

But then I remembered the recipe for Orange-Spiced Pâte Brisée in Sherry Yard’s The Secrets of Baking.  The idea of a spiced pastry that could carry the flavour of a seasonal fruit (Sherry’s recommendation), ultimately won me over.  This simple combination ended up as my must try for the cloudberry jam.

I was happy I kept it straightforward.  In fact, it was quite fortuitous – given the exertion of the day – that the simplest pastry and dessert brought my pastry month to an end.

I made half the recipe to produce four 10cm (2.5 in) galettes.  To increase the Scandinavian twist, I also substituted ground cardamom for the recommended ground ginger.

The result?  Simple but delicious.  The cloudberry jam was sweet, but still permeated strong tart overtones.  With minimal sugar and a strong spice in the pâte brisée, the pastry balanced the jam filling perfectly.  I will definitely make this quick and easy pastry again to pair with a multitude of fresh fruits and other mouth-watering jams!

{ Orange-Spiced Cloudberry Galettes }
Pastry adapted from Sherry Yard

* Ingredients *
250g or 2 sticks of cold unsalted butter
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cold water
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 large egg, at room temperature

* Directions *
Cut the butter into pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Sift together the flour, sugar, spices and salt into a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add the frozen butter.  Mix on low speed for 2 minutes.  Stop the machine and by hand pinch flat any large pieces of butter that remain.  Whisk together the water, juice and egg in a small bowl.  Turn the mixer on low speed and add the liquid all at once. Mix just until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.  The dough should be tacky but not sticky.  Remove the dough from the bowl and wrap in plastic film.  Chill for at least 1 hour.  Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  Quickly roll out each piece into 15cm (6 in) circles.  Chill again for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).  In the centre of the dough, place the jam of your choice.  Fold up 2cm (about 1 inch) around the edge and pinch gently to adhere the folds.  Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar.  Baked for 30 minutes.

Makes eight 10cm (2.5 in) galettes

Strawberry Tart
There is no denying winter is slowing coming to an end.  Yesterday, Sunday, was splendidly perfect.  Sunny.  Clear.  Dry.  The temperature?  It reached a pleasant 29C (85F).  Yes, a little warm for winter, but this is the sub-tropics after all!

I was pottering in the garden taking advantage of the glorious sunshine, and soaking up the impressive abundance of flowers in bloom.  Smiling and cheery at the floral display, I walked back into the house to check on some baking, bien sûr.

I was overwhelmed by the smell.  It hit me immediately.  It was the sweet, buttery, nutty aroma of my pistachio pastry quietly blind-baking away in the kitchen.  I rushed to the oven.  It was all I could do to pull the little tart shells out then and there.  They smelled divine!  Instead, I waved the palm of my hand in front of the oven door towards my nose to breathe in all the pastry goodness.

I was not surprised at the glorious aroma.  I was baking a variation of pâte sablée; the most rich and flavourful French short pastry.

The Roux Brothers reference two pâte sablée recipe versions in Roux Brothers on Patisserie.  Both are made with flour, butter, egg yolks and icing (confectioners) sugar.  But one also substitutes some flour for ground almonds.  This variation reminded me of a lovely berry tart using a pistachio (instead of almond) dough in my Martha Stewart Baking Handbook.  With pastry month in full swing, there was no time like the present.

This tart was melt-in-your-mouth good.  The pâte sablée pastry has a delicate crisp and crumbly texture.  The sweet, buttery-ness of the pastry pairs well with the slightly sharp and tangy crème fraiche filling.  A hint of summer bursts through with a perfect finish of strawberries on top.

Perfect tart.  Perfect day.

{ Strawberry and Pistachio Tarts } Adapted from Martha Stewart

* Ingredients *
All purpose flour, for dusting
7 oz or 200g crème fraiche
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
8 oz or 240g fresh strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup unsalted shelled pistachios
Pistachio Tart dough

* Directions *
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 6mm (1/4 in) thickness. With a dry pastry brush, sweep off excess flour.  With a 15cm (6 in) dessert plate as a guide, use a sharp knife to cut out eight rounds, re-rolling scraps as necessary. Fit dough rounds into eight tart rings, pressing into the edges. Chill for 10 minutes. Using a sharp paring knife, trim dough flush with the top edge of each ring. Refrigerate the shells until well chilled, about 30 mins.

Preheat the oven to 180C or 375 F. Line shells with parchment, leaving a little overhang. Fill with pie weights. Bake until edges are just beginning to turn light golden, about 15 mins. Remove parchment and weights; continue baking until surface is light golden all over, about 6 mins. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. After 10 minutes, remove pastry from the rings.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, combine crème fraiche, cream and sugar.  Whisk until soft peaks form.  Using an offset spatula, spread mixture into cooled tartlet shells. Arrange strawberries and pistachios on top. Serve immediately.

Makes eight 10cm (4 in) tartlets or one 35x10cm (14 x 4 in) tart

{ Pistachio Tart Dough }

* Ingredients *
1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup confectioners sugar (icing sugar)
2 large egg yolks
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsalted shelled pistachios, finely ground
2 tsp heavy cream

* Directions *
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter and icing (confectioners) sugar on a low speed until combined, about 2 mins. Add egg yolks and mix until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Add 1 cup flour and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Add remaining ¼ cup flour, pistachios, salt and cream and mix until flour is no longer visible. Wrap tightly using plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hr or overnight.

{ A few tips … }

Pâte sablée is a little tricky and delicate to work with due to its high butter content.  It is an extremely soft dough. 

1. If baking in summer, or in a hot climate, regularly pop the dough on a baking tray covered with the plastic wrap and chill for 10-15 minutes.  I have also had success rolling out similar pastry dough between plastic wrap.  See tips here :: { Linzer cookies }
2. Ensure you do not roll out the dough too thin as it can be fragile when baked.
3. If you have trouble rolling out the dough, simply press it gently into your pan.

Mille Feuille

It was not long after I met my partner that we took a mini trip to Victoria.  It was a post-Christmas getaway.  We spent a few days travelling around the majestic Great Ocean Road taking in the amazing Twelve Apostles, then we travelled to Mornington Peninsular visiting a number of wineries and picking some local grown strawberries, and then settled back to Melbourne to ring in the New Year.

There was one pastry pit stop along the way.  My partner is quite partial to the Vanilla Slice – Mille Feuille or Napoleon, if you wish.  In my pre-travel research, I stumbled across a number of references to the ‘best vanilla slice in Victoria’.  It was a bold claim.  It was being made about Just Fine Foods Delicatessen(23 Ocean Beach Road, Sorrento, Victoria).

Seeing we were in the area, we needed to sample this custard pastry to see what all the fuss was about.  It was worth the visit.  Lovely crispy layers of pastry contained a light, creamy custard. It was delicious.

Since that trip to Victoria, I had not thought much about Vanilla Slice.  Until reaching ‘pastry month’.  Given I would have a more than willing taste tester by my side, I decided to make my own Mille Feuille.

I filled my Mille Feuille with a simple vanilla pastry cream, crème pâtissière, then topped with the traditional glaze and pattern.  This dessert exaggerated the buttery-ness of my homemade puff pastry.  In a good way.  The puff pastry flavour and texture was quite unadulterated with only the simple addition of pastry cream between the layers.  There was no hiding!

It was very rich, but totally mouth-watering – and it all went in a flash.

{ Mille Feuille }

* Ingredients *
450g or 1lb puff pastry
1/2 cup icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon cocoa
Basic pastry cream

* Directions *
Make the pastry cream and set aside to cool.  Meanwhile, line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Roll out puff pastry to 30 x 30 cm square (12 x 12 inch square).  Cut into 3 strips at 30 x 10 cm (or 12 x 4 in).  Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F or 200C. Place the pastry on the lined tray. Bake for approximately 10 minutes.  Top the pastry with another sheet of baking paper and another baking tray and bake for a further 6-8 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden. Set aside for 30 minutes to cool.

In a bowl, whisk together the icing sugar, butter and milk to make the glaze.  Once you have reached a spreadable but firm consistency, remove 1/4 of the glaze to a separate bowl.  To that, add the cocoa powder.  Add a drop more milk if necessary.  Transfer the cocoa glaze to a small piping bag.

Spread the white glaze on top of one of the cooled pastry strips.  Spread evening.  Then pipe the chocolate across gently from side to side. Lightly drag a wooden toothpick down the length of the pastry, in alternating directions, to create the pattern.

Spread the pastry cream over the remaining two pastry strips, creating layers of pastry, pastry and then glaze.  Chill for 30 minutes.  Use a large serrated knife cut the pastry into portions and then serve immediately.

Serves 5-6

{ Basic Pastry Cream }

* Ingredients *
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup cornflour

* Directions *
In a medium-sized stainless steel bowl, mix the sugar and egg yolks together with a wooden spoon. (Never let the mixture sit too long or you will get pieces of egg forming.)  Add the cornflour to the egg mixture until you get a smooth paste.  Set aside.

Meanwhile in a saucepan combine the milk and split vanilla bean on medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and add slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling.  Remove vanilla bean, scrape out seeds, and add the seeds to the egg mixture.

Place the egg mixture back into a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until boiling, whisking constantly.  When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30 – 60 seconds until it becomes very thick and it is hard to stir.

Remove from heat and pour into a clean bowl and immediately cover the surface with plastic wrap to prevent a crust from forming.  Cool.  If not using right away refrigerate until needed, up to 3 days.  Beat before using to get rid of any lumps that may have formed.

Makes 1 ½ cups

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