Thursday, 31 March 2011

Pâte sucrée

This pastry is traditionally used for filled tarts. The sweet pastry base is pre-baked,  filled with custard-rich crème pâtissière and decorated with glazed fruit. It's also fabulous when used for chocolate tarts, lemon tarts and bakewell tarts. The method I learnt involves forming a well of flour on the work surface (as for pasta) and then slowly mixing the other ingredients by using a palette knife and a smearing method that is called to fraiser the pastry. I've simplified this for ease and find the pastry is just as short and crisp. If any pastry chefs read this however and know of any reason why the fraiser method is necessary I'd be more than willing to be persuaded otherwise. 

Pâte sucrée
  • 170g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 85g unsalted butter (soft)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 1\2 tsp vanilla essence
  1. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. 
  2. Cream the sugar and butter, then add lightly whisked egg yolk, vanilla essence and salt and mix.
  3. Incorporate the mixture together with your hand until the paste is smooth but be careful not to over handle it. It will be quite wet but will firm up in the fridge when you rest it.
  4. Then wrap the paste in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
  5. Once the pastry has rested roll it on a floured surface and line a well greased tart tin. Lift the pastry on a rolling pin to prevent splitting and make sure it is pushed into all the corners of the tin so it fits snugly. Don't worry if it breaks, you can patch it up in the tin by pressing an excess piece of pastry over the split and sealing by applying pressure. 
  6. Roll the pin over the top of the tart tin (as in the picture) to trim the excess and then place the tins in the freezer to completely chill (but not freeze).
  7. Line the tart tins with a cartouche and baking beans or uncooked rice and bake blind for 10 mins, then remove the beans and bake for a further 15 mins. 
If you are using the cases to make filled tarts you can carefully remove from the tin now, but if I wish to use them for pecan tarts, lemon tarts etc I cook then for 5 mins less and the leave them in the tin. They will be baked a second time once filled with the required mixture.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Warm lentil salad

The daffodils and crocus are bobbing in the gardens and parks. The sun is paying us the occasional visit and yesterday the clocks went forward to usher us into British Summer Time. You may have noticed however that  the temperature still has a way to go until we can officially crack open the strawberry and pimms so here is a recipe to make it feel like spring, at the same time as providing a little bit of winter comfort.

This dish is moderately healthy, warming and filling and perfect for lunch on a fresh spring day. 

Warm Lentil Salad (serves 2)
  • 400g cooked puy lentils (or 1 can)
  • 1/2 small red onion, very finely diced
  • 1 tblsp of red wine vinegar
  • 1 tblsp of olive oil
  • 3 small uncooked chorizo sausages, sliced
  • 1 stick celery, peeled and finely diced
  • tblsp of chopped parsley
  • 2 eggs, poached
  • dash vinegar for the egg water
  • s&p
  1. Boil pan of water with dash of vinegar and pinch of salt ready for the poached eggs.
  2. Fry chorizo (no need to use any oil, it's fatty enough) until slightly crisp, remove the chorizo and set aside until you need it. Deglaze the pan with the red wine vinegar to remove any cripsy bits of chorizo.
  3. Put cooked and drained lentils into a pan with the onion, oil and deglazed red wine vinegar and chorizo bits with a sprinkling of salt, and stir over a low heat until warmed through but not piping hot and then set the pan aside. 
  4. Poach 2 eggs in the pan of simmering water and while they are cooking take the warm lentil mix, stir in the celery and capers and portion into little mounds on two plates.
  5. Surround the lentils with chorizo slices and place the egg on top of each. Season with s&p and sprinkle chopped parsley on top.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Croissants and crumbs

In the 15 months since I took redundancy from my old career I have had moments of trepidation, joy, excitement and absolutely gut wrenching fear. Just a glimpse at  my bank statement is enough to send nervous giggles cascading through my body and give me sweaty palms. At times when I think back to my old income I think the only explanation for this madness is mid-life crisis. But then I remember how it felt to trudge to work for a job that no longer gave me any pleasure, in fact that actively made me feel nauseous. I recall crying on a Sunday night at the thought of having to face the misery again on Monday morning. And I remember that I am now free. 

So now I spend my days baking, butchering and basting. I spend hours engrossed in technical cookery books or swearing at the ragged carcasses of chickens. I survive college surrounded by youngsters at the very beginning of their careers and I try not to be too jealous. But still I need experience. If I am ever going to be in a position to set up my dream company I must first develop my CV by working in good kitchens in order to stand out in a crowded industry. 

My first work placement took me to Bluebird, Chelsea. The most important thing to note about Bluebird is the sheer size of the place. There is the restaurant and bar, which has been one of the most popular eateries on the King's Road for over a decade. I can well remember being taken there by an ex when I was a gauche newcomer to London. The unique quality of the skylit restaurant built on the site of the old Bluebird Garage still impresses me. As well as the restaurant, there is Bluebird Café & Forecourt, Bluebird Food Store, various function rooms and private dining facilities, a comprehensive wine cellar and a bakery that provides many of D&D London's other restaurants with fresh bread and pastries on a daily basis. The kitchens that serve this vast space are maze-like, efficient and for a first timer like me, daunting as hell.

Upon arrival I met the sous chef of Bluebird Café, Jasraj Singh, who had set up two days of fun starting with a full day in the bakery. My host was Marcin, who guided me through making vast quantities of laminated dough that we then gradually turned into croissants, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin and danish using industrial rollers and a bowl mixer the size of a smart car. Marcin was very sweet and while I suspect I slowed him down considerably he answered all my questions patiently, gave me really positive feedback and then said really nice things about me to the boss which I hope to turn into a lovely testimonial. The surprising thing about this experience is how much it resembled a production line rather than baking. The nature of producing such high volumes of pastry meant that the whole endeavour felt a little impersonal but I suspect that this is just another example of how naive I am. That said, I will never be afraid of laminated dough again and can happily churn out any number of early morning pain au chocolate without fear. Maybe not quite the same volume as I really don't think my little Kenwood (sorry Mum but did you really think you were getting Red Ken back?) or my wooden rolling pin would cope with more than a kilo at a time.

On the second day I was placed in the Bluebird Café kitchen for the lunch service before heading back down to the bakery. The service kitchen was very similar to other kitchens I have worked in: a surprisingly small area, two or three chefs covering the entire lunch service. If you happened to eat there on Wednesday it may have been me who made your seabass and risotto. Once again the chefs (Raffa and Sergio) couldn't have been more helpful and encouraging. Luckily it was a fairly quiet day and I was encouraged to involve myself in the service as much as I wanted to. I managed to make most of the dishes on the menu at least once. At 3pm as lunch ended I returned to the bakery where Marcin was getting on with the various different types of bread that would be sent out to his customers at various other restaurants. Again the sheer volume involved rendered the entire experience somewhat surreal but I can now form perfect baguette, focaccia and ficelles and have mastered the art of producing two perfect bread rolls (one in each hand) in under 10 seconds. And I'm determined to finally get on with developing a starter to turn my own bread making into a much more effective and personal experience.

Sadly I don't have many photos of the day as I was working pretty much flat out and as any good catering student knows, cameras are a contaminant and should not be wielded in a kitchen! But I certainly look forward to making some croissants and blogging them here in the near future. 

Monday, 21 March 2011

Haddock and leek fish cakes

One of the regular contracts I have is filling the freezer of a family with very busy lives and small children. The challenge is to provide nutritious healthy meals that can be easily defrosted and cooked in the microwave or oven with the minimum of fuss. An added complication for this particular job is to reduce the salt content yet still maintain maximum flavour. For this recipe I poach the fish in milk with bay leaf and onion to add a depth of flavour to the haddock. Then as I combine the ingredients together I add a dash of nutmeg. The sweetness works perfectly with the leek and the fish and the resulting taste is reminiscent of a lovely rich bechamel. If you aren't making a low salt version don't forget to boil the potato in salted water and then season to taste when you combine the fish, potato and leek together.

These little cakes are perfect made in large batches and frozen. All you have to do is defrost them thoroughly in the fridge overnight, place them on a baking tray and cook for 25 mins at 200C or until piping hot all the way through. I like to eat them with fries and a sharp green salad but they also go really well with risotto.

Haddock and leek fish cakes (makes 8)
  • 700g potato
  • 400g haddock 
  • 500ml milk
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • bay leaf
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 2 leek, finely chopped
  • 25g butter
  • 1/2 tblspolive oil
  • 2 eggs, whisked
  • 2 tblsp plain flour
  • 2 tblsp bread crumbs 
  • pepper to taste
  • olive oil for frying
  1. Peel and cube the potato and boil until soft. Once ready drain thoroughly and mash in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Remove any skin and poach the haddock for 15 mins in a pan of milk, with the 2 onion halves, and the bay leaf. When cooked remove from the pan and flake the fish into the mashed potato
  3. Fry the leek in the butter and oil until soft, sweet and golden brown, then remove from the pan and drain on kitchen roll before mixing in a bowl with the mashed potato, flaked fish, nutmeg and a turn of pepper if required. Carefully and evenly combine the mixture together with your hands. If the mix is too dry you can add a little of the poaching liquid, but you may not need it.
  4. With your hands form little cakes, then leave on a plate or tray. Individually dip each cake into the flour, then the egg and then the bread crumbs. Place on a plate until required.
  5. Now heat enough olive oil to shallow fry the cakes, when the oil is hot gently lower each cake into the pan.They will need approximately 4 mins per side to turn them golden brown. If they are colouring too fast turn the heat down.

If you are planning on freezing these don't forget to cool completely before sealing in an airtight bag or container and placing in the freezer.