Not Any Run of the Mille-Feuille!

August is always a busy month of celebrations for our family & this one is no exception.  It begins with our Son’s birthday, swiftly followed the very next day by mine (he is truly the best birthday present I could have wished for) & finally crowned with our wedding anniversary just after mid-month.  There are some pretty cakes to be shared & catch ups with family & friends, sometimes with a glass of Prosecco of course (although I never get to finish my drink because we’re all too busy chatting).

This year, we also made our own Nocino for the first time too & by happy coincidence, it was ready to drink on our anniversary.  The recipe is from the late great Antonio Carluccio’s book “An Italian Feast” (highly recommended reading) & requires green walnuts (we got ours from a lovely gentleman at Potash Farm in Kent – here’s the link www.kentishcobnuts.com).  It is a dark smooth, slightly spicy, warming liqueur & perfect for sipping after dinner.

Along with our busy August of celebrations, this glorious, sun-drenched Summer month also delivers some spectacular sunrises & sunsets, but you have to be up early!  This one was caught by me recently, early one Sunday morning while everyone else was sleeping, as I’m half hanging out of the bedroom window (our neighbours must think I’ve lost the plot, but I got some amazing shots of this beautiful sky).  Fresh berries are at their peak now too, as we see all the wild bushes & trees heavy with ripe, jewel-like luscious fruits.  Raspberries are always welcome in any kind of dessert & especially in a glass of the aforementioned fizz too, giving it a delicate pink tint if they are really ripe!  When I first started baking cupcakes many years ago, I would add a handful of fresh plump, ruby raspberries & creamy chunks of white chocolate to the batter.  Although my decorating skills left a lot to be desired back then, they always vanished rather rapidly!  Our little raspberry bush in the garden isn’t ready to give fruit this year, so I picked up a few punnets from our local shops & stashed them in the fridge to keep them firm.

Following on from my last blog about making puff pastry, I wanted to share another dessert from my childhood: the magical millefeuille (try saying it as “meal-foil” & you’re close enough).  The name literally translates as “a thousand leaves”, which is how the layers of pastry become as they bake.  As a young girl, I would watch with amazement as flat sheets of pastry would magically puff up into pillows of crisp, lighter-than-air slices.  These would then be split, filled with fruit or jam & piped with cream, then layered up into a tall, slender slice of sweetness.  Sometimes the top would be iced with white & chocolate icing in a delicate feathered pattern (so simple, yet so effective), then sometimes it would simply be dusted with a light sifting of icing sugar.  Either way, they would always be welcome as a tea-time treat or special Sunday dessert!

Millefeuille are perfect pastries for those special dinners, celebrations or just a beautiful addition to afternoon tea.  Although they do take a little longer than usual, the effort & effect is definitely worth it!  The pastry recipe is the same as in my last blog, so I’ve added it again here for your ease of reference.  Traditionally, they would be served as three layers of pastry & two layers of crème pâtissière.  However, I’ve kept these simple with just the two layers of pastry & one of cream (I think you all know by now that I don’t like custard!).  Ready?  Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need:

For the pastry:
8oz Self Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
6oz Salted Butter, cold from the fridge & cut into 4 equal pieces (I used salted, as it omits the need for additional salt)
100ml Cold Water

For the filling:
2 punnets of Raspberries (rinsed & placed on kitchen paper to dry)
300ml Double Cream
1 tablespoon of Icing Sugar (plus extra for dusting)
Lemon Zest (remember to wash your Lemon before zesting to remove any wax or dirt)

What to do:

Firstly, you need cool hands so wash them under the cold tap, rinsing your wrists well – trust me, pastry likes cool conditions & this works.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & add one of the butter pieces.  Rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Using a round-ended knife, stir together & slowly add enough water, just a little at a time, to bring it all together – take your time, as you don’t want a sticky gooey mess.  Once you have achieved a thick, dough-like consistency, that should be enough.

Turn out your pastry onto a lightly floured worktop & shape into a rectangle.  Roll away from you into a long piece, about a centimetre thick.  Try to keep the edges as straight as you can, but don’t worry too much or you’ll drive yourself loopy!  Using a dry pastry brush, dust off any excess flour as you go, especially when folding the layers (otherwise it may affect the recipe & you want flaky pastry, not floury).

Take one of the three pieces of butter & cut into small chunks of about 1cm (you can just pull it apart, but the heat from your hands might melt it).

Dot the butter all over the top two thirds of the pastry.

Fold the bottom plain piece over the next third of pastry, then fold the top piece over that.  Brush off the excess flour & press the open edges together to seal the layers of butter & air in.

Dust the worktop with a little more flour.  Turn the pastry one turn to the right & roll out again, just as you did above.

Repeat the above steps a couple more times, using up the last two pieces of butter.  Then turn the pastry to the right, roll it out again & fold into thirds, brushing off the excess flour as you go.

Lay your pastry on a piece of greaseproof paper, fold the top of the paper over your pastry & put it on a plate in the fridge for an hour (you might need to leave it longer during this heatwave we’re having, so probably add another ten minutes if you’re not sure – I’ve left it a couple of hours before & it didn’t do any harm).  Get yourself a cuppa, put your feet up & read a book or something (if you’re like me, you’ve probably been whizzing around, so relax for a bit).

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & then prepare your tin by brushing with melted butter all around the inside, then dusting with flour & shaking off the excess.  This makes it non-stick & your pastry should just lift off after cooking.

Once your pastry is rested & chilled, it’s time to get rolling!  On a lightly floured worktop, roll out the pastry into a wide rectangular strip, about a centimetre thick.

Cut the pastry into equal sized rectangles, using a ravioli or pizza cutter (I find these give a smoother, clean cut).

Place the rectangles on the baking tray & dust with a little icing sugar on top of each (don’t go mad with it, you just want to give them a crispy top).

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 6-8 minutes, until fluffed up & slightly risen.  They won’t be very coloured at this stage.

Turn down the oven to 190*C & bake for a further 10-12 minutes, until golden & crispy.

Remove from the oven & carefully transfer each pastry slice to a cooling rack.  Leave them to go completely cold.

At this stage, if you have any trimmings leftover from creating your rectangles, brush them with beaten egg & chuck on some grated cheese, then twirl them up & bake in the oven at 220*C for 8-10 minutes to produce cheese straws (see my previous blog for more info).  There are no leftovers allowed when you’ve put so much effort into making that pastry!

Once your pastry slices have cooled completely, they’re ready for filling & stacking.

In a large bowl, whip up the cream with a tablespoon of icing sugar, until fluffy & smooth.  The icing sugar just adds a little stiffness to the cream & allows it to set, which is perfect if you’re serving them in Summer.

Fold in the lemon zest & scoop some into a piping bag (it’s up to you if you want to use a nozzle, but I prefer not to).

Time to cut your pastry pieces in half.  Along the side of each piece of pastry, you will see where the layers have separated.  Using a serrated knife (a sharp bread knife will do), slice carefully through the centre horizontally.  Lay them on the cooling rack.

Pipe neat, small splodges of the cream on the bottom layer of pastry – you should be able to comfortably get eight spots of cream on there.

Next take eight raspberries & pop them on top of each spot of cream, making sure they are firmly on, just don’t press too hard!

Pipe a splodge of cream on the gaps in the centre of the raspberries – this will hold the top of your millefeuille in place & make it taller.

Repeat the above stages, until all your millefeuille are finished!

Dust them lightly with icing sugar, using a tea strainer to get a fine sugar powder.

Place your millefeuille on a decorative plate or cake stand & serve!  If it’s warm weather, place them in the fridge for 30 minutes on a plate to allow them to set.  These won’t keep for very long, probably until the next day at the most, so they really should be eaten on the same day they are made.

If you don’t have raspberries, why not try strawberry slices instead?  This works just as well with other berries too, so you could make them with blueberries, blackberries or cherries.  Sometimes, I just use a little jam or preserve on the bottom instead of fruit, so the choice is yours (try apricot – it’s fabulous!).  For a truly decadent treat, try making my version of Pain au Chocolat (or Chocolatines) – add a couple of pieces of dark chocolate to each slice of pastry, then roll them up, place on a baking tray & glaze with beaten egg.  Bake at 190*C for 10 minutes, then turn up the oven to 210*C for the last 15 minutes.  When they’ve cooled a little (flaming hot chocolate needs to rest for a few minutes), sprinkle with icing sugar & serve.  These go very well with a cup of coffee, as it brings out the flavour of the chocolate.

These delicately crisp, light layers of fruity pastry perfection will wow your guests at any dinner or afternoon tea!  However you indulge, millefeuille are meant for sharing.  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

Good Pie, the Blackberry Way!

It’s that time of year, when the hedgerows are bursting with delicious, deepest dark purple blackberries, just waiting to be plucked from their brambles.  There’s something satisfying about picking fresh fruit that instantly transports me back to childhood – I would pick apples, blackberries, raspberries & cherries for my Mum to turn into the tastiest treats, carefully carried home (usually in my skirt turned inside out & filled with berries that stained – sorry Mum!).  I’ve always grown blackberries in the garden – they are really easy to grow either in pots on the patio or along a hedgerow & the more fruit you pick, the more they seem to produce.  Plus they have the prettiest little white flowers that the bees adore, so I’m doing my bit for them too!

One of the best ways to enjoy blackberries is encased in pastry, adorning slices of crisp apple & making them pink with their juice (although, I like to freeze a few & pop them in Prosecco to make blackberry bubbles!).  Pastry making used to elude me.  It is one of those voluptuous little vehicles that carry fabulous fillings into your mouth.  Yet, despite it’s beautiful taste & crumbly texture, it can be a bit of a nightmare to make your own – mine used to resemble tasty cardboard!   There are so many different types to choose from, then there are all the rules you should follow – keep your hands cold, only use your fingertips, don’t handle it too much, only roll it out once 28 degrees north while standing on one leg, blah blah.  It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

Although I would never attempt to make my own filo pastry, I have made my own puff pastry in the past (it’s like making the croissant dough – lots of folding, plenty of butter & leaving to rest for a bit).  It does take time, but it is absolutely worth it & I know exactly what’s in it!  Shop-bought pastry of any kind can be nice, however I’m pretty sure that all those added little extras they put in are not good for us (don’t get me started on unnecessary & unpronounceable ingredients!).  Plus, when it says “all butter” on the packet, it doesn’t necessarily mean just butter (have a look next time you go shopping).

Sometimes a recipe will say “bake blind”.  That does not mean tie your apron over your face & wander around your kitchen blindfolded (apparently).  It means that once you have lined your tin with pastry, put a sheet of greaseproof paper on top, along with a layer of ceramic baking beans to hold the paper down & allow the pastry to cook a little before you fill it.  Baking beans can be found at most supermarkets or good baking supply stores.  In an emergency, you can use dried pasta shapes – they can be reused a couple of times, however they tend to break after that.  Once you have baked your pastry case, then it’s ready to be filled or frozen for when you need one!  If you are making a fruit pie like this one, you don’t need to bake it blind as your filling isn’t going to be too wet.

For sweet dishes, the basic pastry I make is just butter, flour, sugar & eggs.  One of the best tips I’ve discovered is to use icing sugar – your pastry will be smooth, silky & really easy to roll.  Depending on the filling, sometimes I’ll add a bit of orange or lemon zest (or both!).  It’s always fabulously fluffy in the middle, with that melt-in-the-mouth buttery taste.  I have used this recipe for all kinds of pastry delights & it is easy to adapt, so you can change it up as you need or leave it simple & let the filling do the talking.  Hands washed, aprons on!

What you need:

12oz Self-Raising Flour (plus extra for rolling)
4oz Salted Butter, room temperature (slightly softened)
4oz Vanilla Sugar or Vanilla Icing Sugar (make your own – just pop a Vanilla pod in a jar of sugar overnight, or add 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract if you don’t have time)
2 large Eggs

Prepared filling – peeled, cored & thinly sliced apple or pear (you only need about three or four regular sized apples/pears for a 12″ pie); washed & drained blackberries or raspberries
2 tablespoons Vanilla Sugar (for the filling)
2 tablespoons of Milk for brushing on top

Optional ingredients:

Zest of an Orange or a Lemon (or half of each mixed) – wash & dry them first to remove any wax or dirt (try to get unwaxed fruit if you can)

Ground Cinnamon (if you are using apples, a dusting of this fragrant spice will enhance the flavour)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C.   Prepare your baking tin(s) – there is enough pastry here to make a large 12″ pie or a dozen small ones with lids, so it’s whatever size you are making.  To prepare your baking tins, wipe the inside with butter using a piece of greaseproof paper or just your fingers, then dust with flour to coat the butter.  This will make them non-stick & your pastry will pop out easily.  If you are making a large pie, try using a loose bottomed pie tin (easier to transfer from tin to plate), or lay a couple of long, wide strips of greaseproof paper across each other in the bottom of the pie tin & hanging over the edge by a couple of inches (once cooked, simply lift your pie out).  For smaller tartlets or pies, I’ve used patty tins & the silicone cases – they actually work quite well.  Whatever tin or case you use, always place it on a baking tray for extra support & ease when removing from the oven later.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & then add the butter, eggs & 4oz of vanilla sugar or icing sugar.  If you are using orange & lemon zest, add that too.  Get your hands in the bowl & start mixing, squishing everything together to distribute evenly & make a pliable ball of pastry.  Dust a worktop with flour & place the dough on top.  Dust your rolling pin too (you don’t want the pastry to stick to it!).

Cut the pastry ball in two & set one aside (this will make the top of your pie).  Take the other pastry ball & roll it out, turn it & then roll again.  If it’s a bit sticky, add another dusting of flour underneath before rolling – use a pallet knife to slide underneath if necessary.  Try not to add too much flour to the worktop though, because it will combine with your pastry & become dry.   Once rolled, transfer it to the prepared baking tin, making sure that there is no air between the pastry & tin.  Use a floured finger to press it gently into all the corners or curves if using a fluted tin, or the dusted handle of a wooden spoon works really well.

Once your pie case is prepared, add the filling.  I use regular, uncooked ripe apples or pears that have been peeled & cored, then sliced thinly & fanned out over the bottom of the pastry case.  Top with a few luscious blackberries, dusted with a little cinnamon & a good sprinkling of vanilla sugar.  Don’t over-fill your pie case – just one layer of sliced fruit & a few berries is sufficient – too much filling will make it soggy underneath (never a good look!) & the pastry won’t cook.

Roll out the pastry top slightly larger than the base, then use your rolling pin to lift it & gently roll it over the pie.  Pinch & press the edges together into a pretty pattern using your fingers, all the way around until it is sealed up nicely.  If you feel like being a bit creative, cut out shapes with the trimmings to decorate – add after brushing with milk, then brush them too.  When I’m making a pie with blackberries in, I like to decorate with flowers, because they look a bit like blackberries & sometimes I’ll add pastry leaves too.  It’s just to use up any leftover pastry trimmings – no need to throw them away, just create some pretty shapes for the top.

Brush with a little milk, then prick holes in the top with a sharp knife or a fork.  Sprinkle a little vanilla sugar over the top.  Bake it in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, until it is golden & the filling will be all bubbling out of the tiny holes you made.  Don’t worry about the little pools of filling – they will bake into the pastry in the oven & it will be crispy, golden & lovely.

After baking, remove your pie from the oven & place on a cooling rack. Leave it in the tin for a few minutes, as it will be easier to remove once it has cooled down a bit.  Even if you are going to eat it hot, you don’t want to be burning your mouth – fruit fillings especially will be like molten lava & tend to be hotter than the sun, so give it a moment & save yourself (& your guests) some pain!  If you’re going to eat it cold, just leave it to cool completely in the tin before cutting it.

If you’ve used a loose-bottomed tin, just push the base up from underneath & ease your pie onto a serving plate or board.  Slide a pallet knife gently underneath the pie to separate it from the actual tin base.  If you’ve use the greaseproof paper method, simply lift it out & transfer to a plate, then slice, serve & share!

So next time you have an abundance of blackberries, forget the crumble & pack them in a pie!  Stay hungry! 😉  Aimee x