Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Parma ham, pine nut and parmesan pin wheels

It seems like ages since my last blog post but December familial duties meant a trip to the North. I'm not sure what happened to the rest of the month but with 3 days to Christmas I thought I should pull my finger out.

I seem to have done a lot of bread in the past two months but as I created these for a dinner party and they were a roaring success I wanted to share them. They were appetisers so I made them as small as possible. Whoever first came up with the idea of bread or pastry as a pre-dinner snack was just plum greedy. Think of cheese straws, mini quiches, sausage rolls, or gougere and then imagine eating a 4 or 5 course meal after them?  It's just not practical.

The recipe is based on Richard Bertinet's olive dough slices, although I haven't used semolina in my dough and the quantities of the added ingredients vary. The end result is a savoury chelsea bun and they were incredibly well recieved. I filled them with the taste of Italy by layering ham, pine nuts, parmesan and basil. As they bake the cheese melts and holds everything together. I already have plans to make a tonne of these babies over Christmas and really need all the snow to melt so I can get back to the running that enables my obsessive eating habit.

Parma ham, pine nut, parmesan and basil pin wheels

Olive dough

  • 500g strong white flour
  • 15g fresh yeast
  • 10g salt
  • 50g extra virgin olive oil
  • 320g lukewarm water


  • 150g grated parmesan 
  • 100g pan-roasted pine nuts
  • 8 slices Parma ham
  • handful of chopped basil
  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  1. Weigh and sift the flour into a large bowl and rub the yeast into it, mix in the salt and olive oil before gradually adding the lukewarm water until the dough combines. Knead and stretch the dough on an un-floured surface for 5-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Cover and leave to rest in a warm place for 1 hour or until it has doubled in size
  2. Preheat your oven to 240C.
  3. Gently knock back the dough and flatten it into a rectangle with your fingers. Use a rolling pin if you find this easier. It should be approximately 20cm x 30cm. Brush with olive oil
  4. Mix together the grated parmesan and pine nuts and sprinkle half the mixture evenly across the surface of the dough. Now layer the slices of ham over the top (like a pizza), sprinkle with basil and finally top off with the rest of the cheese and nuts. Make sure your filling goes to the edges of dough so that the filling runs all the way through.
  5. Roll the dough up like a Swiss roll, tucking in as tightly as possible. Seal the edge of the dough by slightly pressing down with your fingers and position the roll so the seal is underneath.
  6. First cut in half, then cut each piece in half again until you have 16 slices. They will be thin and delicate so if required use a flat blade  or palette knife to lift the slices onto the pre-greased tray. Leave to prove for 45 minutes.
  7. Bake for 12-15 mins until golden brown then turn onto a cooling rack. While still warm brush lightly with olive oil and leave to cool.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A penny for your thoughts

This is a great soup to make when you have left over vegetables in your fridge as it really doesn't matter which root vegetables you use. The results are always rich and creamy as long as you don't use to much of one flavour. The thrifty nature of it makes a fantastic choice an end of the week meal in these <big voice> austere times.

I took the inspiration (and name) for this soup from The Soup Book edited by Sophie Grigson. It's a lovely collection of familiar and new recipes. Penny Soup derives it's name from the cheap produce that it utilises as well as the perfect little discs of vegetables that are used to garnish it. The ingredients in my version are slightly different from the book and I use all the trimmings to make my own stock, rather than using a shop bought one. This means I can not only control the seasoning levels exactly but it brings the cost per dish down even further.  

Penny Soup - makes 4 servings
  • 2 leek, cut into discs
  • 3 medium potatoes 
  • 3  carrots
  • 2 parsnip
  • 2 jerusalem artichoke 
  • 15g butter
  • 1l water
  • parsley to garnish
  • S&P to taste
  1. Slice all the vegetables into discs approximately 5 mm thick apart from the potato which should be cubed. On a low heat simmer all the off-cuts (but not the potato skin) in a pan for 10 mins.
  2. Sauté all the vegetables and butter except the potato in a large saucepan for 10 mins until soft and translucent. Remove a handful of each vegetable from the pan and put to one side. Add the potato and stock and simmer for 20 mins until the potato is cooked.
  3. With a slotted spoon transfer the vegetables to the processor or blender and run until you have a smooth purée. Now add the stock incrementally until you reach your ideal consistency. Season to taste.
  4. Pour the soup into bowls and garnish with the vegetable discs you have saved and  some chopped parsley.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Creamy Mushroom Soup

My quest for hearty winter meals continues, as does my search for the perfect soup. When I think back to the soups I loved as a child I think of classics like Heinz Tomato, eagerly scooped up with slices of thick, white toasted bread. Thinking back to my childhood brings fond memories of many different Baxters and Campbell's soups but the most comforting flavour of all is condensed cream of mushroom soup. My favourite childhood meal was my Grandma's chicken and mushroom casserole, made with chicken thighs, 2 cans of condensed mushroom soup and an onion or two. Nowadays I think the best way I could describe it would be a chicken supreme and I have very fond memories of lunch at my Grandma's table praying for seconds. I know I could make a proper supreme with actual mushrooms and cream but this one means much more to me. Nothing is quite as comforting to me on a cold evening in than Grandma's chicken and mushroom casserole over a jacket potato. Comfort food at it's very finest.

With this as my inspiration I wanted to create a smooth mushroom soup. Creamy in texture but deep and complex in flavour. It may not be courtesy of my Grandma but I hope she'd be proud of me. This recipe makes six portions and the volume of raw mushroom means you need a very large pan (at least 28cm). If you don't have a large enough pan, just halve the quantities.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
  • 30g butter
  • 300g mushroooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 stick carrot
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 300g potatoes, chopped into approx 2cm cubes
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 tblsp crème fraiche
  • 2 tblsp thyme
  • 50g mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • handful of thyme leaves
  • cubed bread 
  • 4 tblsp olive oil
  1. In your largest pan melt the butter and sauté the onion, celery and carrot for 10 minutes or until softened. Then add the chopped garlic and cook for a further 2-3 mins.
  2. Stir in the mushrooms carefully (you really do need a large pan for this) and sauté for 5-10 mins or until soft. Add the potato and the stock and bring to the boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer for 30 mins.
  3. While the soup is simmering sauté the sliced mushroom in the butter for 10 mins or until soft and golden brown, flambé in the brandy until flames have died down and then set the mushrooms to one side. Now heat the 4 tbsp of oil in the same pan and lightly fry handfuls of cubed bread until golden, then leave to drain on a paper towel.
  4. When the soup has simmered, use a slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables and mushroom to a blender and process until smooth. It's entirely up to you how smooth you wish the final soup to be. Now gradually add the stock until you have the consistency you prefer. Season to taste.
  5. Transfer the soup back to your pan and on a low heat stir through the crème fraiche until it has completely dissolved. Do not let it boil at this stage, you just want to heat it through.
  6. Garnish with croutons, fried mushroom slices and thyme.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Tuscan Bean Soup

Well this is a turn up for the books, isn't it? Snow in the first week of December. Imagine the faces of the little gambling elves at William Hill light up with glee at the thought of hopeful punters willing to take yet another punt on a white Christmas. Ordinarily I'd be locked in a warm kitchen, producing lasagne by the acre or meatballs by the tonne, ready for my winter hibernation. However this year as Christmas approaches I've noticed my waistline expanding, no doubt as a direct result of my career choices. Certainly three weeks of bread products can't have helped. But it's a challenge finding warming and hearty meals that don't also include a whole pat of butter or kilo of flour so I find myself turning to soups.

It can be the simplest of repasts or the most complex of deep and hearty stews and it's the latter I'm going to be focusing on for most of this week. Between now and my next college class I'll be producing a number of different dishes, not low fat as such, but certainly packed full of fresh vegetables, protein rich pulses and bone-seeping warmth. Considering the next topic on the college course is pasta I couldn't miss the opportunity to lose a couple of pounds. First up is a vegetarian Tuscan Bean Soup. There are hundreds of different recipes for this dish. Some contain meat stock, some have a mixture of beans or vegetables and others contain entire bones of ham so you really can be guided by the contents of your fridge. The one thing all versions agree on is that the soup should have a rich tomato base that thickens with the pulses, providing a comforting warmth. I've devised a vegetarian version as I've been making a lot of heavy meat and game dishes recently and fancied a change.

Tuscan Bean Soup - serves 4
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for dribbling
  • 900ml water
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, 1" batons
  • 1/2 courgette, 1" batons
  • 1 small red pepper, 1" batons
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 200g baby leaf spinach, shredded
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 400g soaked borlotti beans (1 can)
  • 200g soaked chickpeas (1/2 can)
  • S&P to taste
  • 4 slices ciabatta, toasted
  • grated parmesan for sprinkling (if desired)
  1. Chop all the vegetables and in a small saucepan simmer the trimmed offcuts, including the onion skin with the 900ml of water for10 mins.
  2. While the stock is simmering, heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the vegetables, garlic and whole rosemary sprig for 10 mins until soft. Now add the tomato paste and stir through the vegetables before adding the can of tomatoes and the stock. Season to taste with S&P
  3. Mash half the borlotti beans with a fork and add to the pan. Now simmer on a low heat for 30 mins. Taste again and season more if required. Add the remaining beans, chickpeas and spinach to the pan and simmer for a further 20 mins.
  4. Once the soup is served place a slice of ciabatta toast on top, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese (if desired). Garnish with basil leaves or a sprig of  rosemary.
Stay warm

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Brioche: the end of the dough journey

I've baked my way through bread rolls, speciality breads and enriched doughs and I finally reach the end of the dough section in my course. Today I give you Brioche. Actually about three batches of brioche as the first two went ever so slightly wrong due to a basic lack of attention to detail on my part.

Brioche is a beautifully sweet, enriched dough and when made in the traditional manner can take hours to make as it proves in the fridge in order to retard the rising process and enrich the flavour. As with other enriched doughs it is made with egg and butter and it is the latter that can make it difficult to form. The high fat content resists smoothing and has a tendency to form folds when you shape into rolls or cottage loaves etc.

I found a very easy, quick recipe in Leith's Cookery Bible but I've made a small alteration to the method as I found too much liquid for the quantity of flour. For the first attempt I distracted myself by eating dinner and managed to burn the top. Schoolgirl error. The bread itself was perfect, with a lovely spring back when I compressed the dough between thumb and forefinger. It had a rich, 'not-too-sweet' taste that would be delicious with butter and jam. I used a 6-inch cake tin (like a Christmas cake tin), resulting in a round of brioche. Luckily I caught it just before the burnt taste had permeated into the bread but it certainly wouldn't win any points for presentation. The remains of attempt #1 now reside in the deep freeze and await transformation into something else.

Attempt #1

My second effort used the same ingredients and method but this time I used a loaf tin and set the oven temperature slightly lower. I also watched it like a hawk. The results were better, with the same delightful texture and spring back. Taste-wise it was much the same as the first effort, but this is to be expected from the same recipe. But the temperature must still have been too high as the sides cracked and expanded. On the whole a perfectly acceptable loaf with a cakey texture, but still a far cry from being aesthetically pleasing. It's keeping attempt #1 company in the freezer.

Attempt #2

With my third and final effort I had more success. With one slight hiccup. Again, the same recipe produced an identical texture and taste but this time I used some small tins and made miniature loaves with half the dough. With the other half I made cute little cottage loaves. The mini loaves satisfied my high standards but the cottage loaf shapes suffered from what can only be described as a lack of sufficient anchoring. The taste results were divine. Like a sweeter, spongier scone. And they are cute. The power of cute should never be underestimated.

Attempt #3
Research tells me that in future I need to push a pencil through
the cottage loaf from the top, to prevent slipping.

Brioche - makes 1 large or 12 small brioches
  • 7g fresh yeast
  • 5 tsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp lukewarm water
  • 225g plain white flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 55g melted butter
For the glaze
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp water and 1 tsp caster sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Butter and flour the mould or tray you plan to use.
  3. Cream the yeast with the water and 1 tsp of the sugar until it has fully dissolved, then sift the flour, the salt and the remainder of the sugar into a large bowl.
  4. Melt the butter and leave to cool to hand temperature. 
  5. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the yeast, combining with one hand, then the beaten egg and then add the butter incrementally until you form a soft dough. Add a little more butter as the dough can be quite wet, but not so much that it loses form.
  6. Turn onto an unfloured surface and knead for 10 mins until you have a smooth, elastic dough. If the dough sticks to your hands coat them in some of the remaining melted butter and work the dough with buttered hands. This prevents sticking and works more butter into the dough at the same time. Then place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover in clingfilm to prove in a warm place for 1 hour.
  7. Remove the dough from the bowl and knock it back by gently kneading for 2 minutes before you form the shapes required. If making rolls divide the dough into 12 pieces or alternately place the dough in your pre-prepared loaf tin or brioche mould. Cover and leave to rise again in a warm place for 30 mins.
  8. Brush the brioche lightly with the sweetened glaze and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins for large loaves or 10-15 mins for rolls. Check 5 mins before the stated cooking time to check they aren't browning too quickly, if they are reduce the oven heat and cook for remaining time.
I'm currently looking for ideas of what to do with attempts #1 & 2. So far I have bread and brioche pudding. Any recipe suggestions would be appreciated!