chard, goat cheese and walnut galette with oat pastry

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My mother is one of those thoroughly gifted, green-fingered people who breathes life into dwindled branches on a daily basis. When I was a child, she’d routinely rescue half-dead potted shrubs from local garden centres for one dollar apiece; a few weeks later, she’d be separating densely-packed roots into two separate pots of glossy green leaves.

She’d also frequently save seeds from fruit such as apples or papaya, drying them on the windowsill til their skins became hard and glossy.  She’d then plant them, with plenty of faith and a mound of organic mulch (she still swears by the efficacy of regular mulching).

We had thirty papayas from one of those dried seeds. Fledgling tomatoes and an avocado too. Each year, I benefit from her yield of apples and citrus fruit until my fridge is bursting at the seams.

But no. I haven’t inherited her gift.

I’ve tried. Oh gosh, I’ve tried. My front doorstep is frequently cluttered with dusty pots from plants-that-were; a sad memorial to my horticultural ineptness. I’ve spent a fortune on seeds and organic potting mix, only to be met with the rotting stench of dead foliage (and failure, obviously).

So you can imagine my surprise when a last-ditch effort to grow organic rainbow chard actually yielded results. Meaning, they’re STILL ALIVE. And thriving.

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Since my initial planting in November last year, my little crop of rainbow chard has grown spectacularly; I’ve harvested handfuls of stems every other week and there’s no sign of waning yet.

Other than eating the leaves raw in salads, I’ve made many a thin-crusted chard pizza (with caramelized onions, pesto and goats cheese), variations of sauteed greens and a few toasted coconut sweet potato and chard based curries.

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However, a few days ago I happened upon the idea of making an oat-flour based chard galette, with fresh walnuts that my mother picked on a recent trip to Bright, Victoria.

This thing is glorious. Absolutely bursting with savoury deliciousness. The slight bitterness from the chard combines beautifully with the earthy toasted walnuts, sweet onions and rich melted cheese, all encased in flaky oaten pastry.

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If you haven’t got a glut of chard in your own garden, feel free to substitute with any other leafy green (Tuscan kale works exceptionally well) or just use a whole quantity of spinach.  Walnuts can be easily traded for pine nuts if you prefer.

This galette is beautiful served in thick wedges for lunch with a simple dressed salad and marinated olives, or perhaps accompanied by buttered sourdough for a light dinner.

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Chard, Goat Cheese and Walnut Galette with Oat Pastry

Serves 4-6

  • 1 cup (100g) organic, finely milled* oat flour
  • 1 cup (125g) plain (all-purpose) white flour + about 1/4 cup extra for kneading
  • 200g cold, cubed unsalted butter
  • a good pinch of salt
  • iced water, as required (about 2 tbsp)
  • a splash (about 1/4 tsp) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 free-range egg, white and yolk separated

*use a coarse mill if you prefer more of an oaten texture

Filling:

  • 1 medium red (Spanish) onion, finely chopped
  • 3 small cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 100g fresh organic rainbow chard, stalks finely sliced, large leaves torn
  • 150g baby English spinach, leaves only
  • 50g raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 75g good-quality cheddar or ‘tasty’ cheese, grated
  • 50g goats cheese, crumbled
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp plain flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten with a splash of iced water (reserved from the egg used for the pastry)

For the dough: add the flours to a large mixing bowl with the salt and butter. Rub the butter in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add in the apple cider vinegar, egg yolk (reserve the white for glazing) and a trickle of iced water. Mix well with your hands, adding a little more iced water as you go until the mixture becomes smooth and cohesive (the dough will become a little sticky).

Tip out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth. Form into a rough disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes whilst you prepare your filling.

For the filling: add the onion, herbs and garlic to a saucepan with a good splash of olive oil. Allow to saute on low heat until opaque (do not allow to brown).

Increase heat to medium, then add the rainbow chard stems and leaves. Cook, stirring for one minute until wilted. Add in the English spinach and cook for another 2 minutes or until just wilted. Season with salt, turn off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool slightly.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Line large tray with baking paper and set aside.

On a well-floured surface, roll out your pastry to 35 cm diameter (about 0.5mm thick). Carefully transfer the pastry onto your lined baking tray.

Sprinkle the teaspoon of flour over the centre of the pastry disc in a thin layer (this will absorb any fluid from the spinach and ensure your pastry doesn’t become soggy). Evenly distribute the cooled spinach mixture over the flour, leaving a 3cm border around the edge of the pastry.

Sprinkle over the cheeses and walnuts, then grind a good helping of black pepper over the filling. Turn the edges of the pastry disc up to roughly enclose the filling (don’t worry if it looks ‘rustic’, this is what a galette is all about!). Press together any overlapping pastry edges until you have a well sealed pastry crust. Brush with beaten egg white.

Bake the galette on a centre shelf in your preheated oven for 50-60 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden and the filling is bubbling. Allow to cool for five minutes before slicing to serve.

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Note: if you have a pizza stone (and love a crisp pastry crust) I’d highly recommend using it to bake this galette. Preheat the stone for five minutes, then carefully transfer the galette onto the stone atop the baking paper. Bake as above.

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beef and guinness hand pies

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It’s frosty this evening. Still, cold and soaked with winter rain. I’m sitting on the couch, tightly wrapped in a furry blue blanket. Despite just finishing dinner, I’m dreaming of food.

You may know by now that that’s not unusual. As a food blogger/recipe developer/carbohydrate and dairy obsessive, I think about food for at least 90% of my waking hours. Heck, sometimes I even dream about food. It’s rather good because… well, effectively I get to eat twice as much.

beef

Anyway, I digress. Tonight, I’m dreaming of one thing in particular: beef and Guinness hand pies. These gems were fashioned last weekend in partnership with my beautiful friend Erin who, for the record, makes the very best apple caramel cheesecake that I have ever tasted (I still need to steal her recipe). We drank tea, chatted, made spiced pumpkin soup and rolled pastry in clouds of flour. A few hours later, we ate glorious pockets of beef and gravy by the fireside in the best of company.

It was blissful, in every sense of the word.

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It’s now been six days since I ate those golden hand pies. Six long and arduous days, most of which were spent sitting in my shoebox office with dishwater coffee and a pile of paperwork. Between phone calls and assessments, I found my mind drifting towards crisp golden pastry, nuggets of tender beef and rich Guinness gravy. And pulled pork rolls, tacos and flax macarons but… well, mostly beef and gravy (see? all.the.time).

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These little pies are easy on both the eyes and the stomach. Erin and I stole the bones of the recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook, though as per usual it’s been considerably tweaked. The pies themselves can be assembled in a flash; the only involved component is making the filling (and the pastry, if you’re that way inclined). Both elements can be prepared the day before, chilled overnight and assembled in minutes before cooking.

If you can, eat these by the fireside. With a chaser of peat-bog whisky. Winter food at its best.

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Beef and Guinness Hand Pies
Adapted from Food We Love by The Australian Women’s Weekly

Makes 24 snack-sized pies

  • 500g beef skirt or chuck steak, finely diced
  • 1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 440ml can Guinness stout (we actually added an entire 750ml bottle and cooked it down for aaaages; do as you like! *substitute another stout if desired)
  • 1 cup (250ml) organic beef stock
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 350g homemade shortcrust pastry (or 3 sheets ready-rolled)
  • 350g homemade rough puff (or 3 sheets ready-rolled)
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten lightly
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Heat the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan. Add beef and cook, stirring, until browned. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add in the flour, stirring until the mixture bubbles and is well browned.

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Gradually add in the stout and stock, stirring until the gravy boils and thickens. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Uncover and check for seasoning – add salt and pepper if necessary. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the gravy has reduced and thickened (it should appear thick and glossy; add a little cornflour slurry or cook for longer if required). Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (430 degrees f) until hot. Lightly grease 2 x 12 hole standard (1/4 – 1/3 cup capacity) muffin pans. Using a 10cm upturned bowl or pastry cutter, cut 24 rounds from the shortcrust pastry sheets. Using an 8cm upturned bowl or pastry cutter, cut 24 rounds from the remaining puff pastry.

Place one round of shortcrust pastry into each of the muffin holes, pressing lightly with your fingers to fit. Divide the beef filling between each pastry case (about 1 heaped tbsp each) and brush the edges with egg. Top with the rounds of puff pastry, pressing with your fingers to ensure that the edges are sealed. Brush with the remaining egg, then make a small slit in the top of each pie with a sharp knife.

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Bake pies for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden. Stand for 5 minutes in the pans before serving hot, with or without tomato sauce.

Note: Cooked pies can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 2 months (though I doubt that they’ll last that long)

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*Thanks to Wendy at Chez Chloe and Susan at The Wimpy Vegetarian for inviting me to be part of the Writing Process Blog Tour. I’m working on my responses and hope to post something by mid-next week!

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spiced date and almond cigars with saffron honey

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Those of you who regularly read this blog would be aware of my long-standing obsession with Israeli and Middle Eastern cuisine. It’s something to do with the fragrant mix of spices, delicate florals, bleeding saffron and the earthy crunch of nuts, occasionally punctuated by sweet bursts of pomegranate or quince. It’s breathtaking art, both on the plate and the palate. I doubt that my adoration will ever wane.

Recently, my love of Israeli food has translated to an obsession with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks. Two months ago, I purchased both Plenty and Jerusalem; both have subsequently been pored over at least once per week. I’ve made a few of his vegetable recipes, from this green herb salad to an adapted version of braised artichokes with freekeh. However, prior to last weekend I was yet to attempt one of his fragrant desserts.

pistachios

pistachiosmpCue last Saturday. Aaron and I had invited some friends over for dinner in a ‘Moroccan feasting tent’ (a.k.a an abstract tent of sheets, blankets and rough twine that had initially been assembled for the entertainment of our nephew and nieces who had stayed over the previous weekend). Here’s a small snapshot of the ‘roof’:

sheetceiling

I lovingly planned the menu: slow cooked lamb in spices and preserved lemon, flatbread with za’atar, split pea dip, beetroot with labneh, marinated sweet peppers and roasted carrots with pistachios, pomegranate and mint.

After some consideration, I decided to attempt an adaptation of Ottolenghi’s sweet pastry cigars with almond and cinnamon filling for dessert.

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For personal reasons, I drastically reduced the sugar in Ottolenghi’s recipe, omitting the saffron icing and exchanging most of the sugar in the filling for chopped Medjool dates. When cooked, the dates formed a beautiful soft caramel that intermingled beautifully with the chopped nuts and spices.

Before serving with vanilla bean ice cream, I drizzled over some saffron and orange blossom infused raw honey, scattering over sweet crushed pistachios and dried rose petals.

deansbeesrosecrush

The finished dish was a beautiful marriage of textures, colours and flavours. Each bite provided the crunch of fried pastry, the soft complexity of the date and nut filling, sweet fragrant honey and floral rose petals.

We enjoyed the cigars alongside creamy vanilla bean ice cream, however for those of you who avoid dairy, these cigars are perfectly beautiful when eaten on their own. Their natural sweetness would be a perfect pick-me-up on a dreary afternoon.

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Spiced Date and Almond Cigars with Saffron Honey

Adapted from this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi

Makes 8 large or 16 small cigar pastries

  • 40 g finely chopped walnuts
  • 60 g finely chopped almonds
  • 60g Medjool dates (about 4), stoned and chopped
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 20 g raw caster sugar
  • 75 ml water
  • 1 pinch fine sea salt
  • 3 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 1 medium egg, separated
  • 16 filo pastry sheets (12 cm x 18 cm)
  • 250 ml (1 cup) sunflower oil (approximately), for frying

To serve:

  • 2 tbsp raw honey (I used Dean’s Bees unprocessed honey from Urban Locavore)
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp roasted, coarsely crushed pistachios
  • unsprayed dried rose petals (optional), crushed

Place the walnuts, almonds, dates, cinnamon, sugar, water and salt into a medium pan.

fillingpotGently heat over a low flame, stirring regularly for about four minutes or until the sugar has dissolved and the dates have softened and broken down. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Whisk in the lemon rind and the egg yolk (place the white into a small bowl, you will require it to roll the pastries) to create a thick, sticky mixture like this:

mixture

Set the filling aside. Place 1 filo pastry sheet onto a clean, dry surface with the longest edge facing you. Spread about three tsp of the nut mixture (15-20g) (about 3 tsp) in a long, thin strip along the edge closest to you (leave a 1cm gap on the right and left sides).

fillingspread

Fold the two sides in, sticking the pastry down over the paste to hold in the filling. Roll the pastry forwards (away from you) to create a compact cigar.

rollingBrush the last 1cm of the pastry with egg white, then fold to seal the end. Repeat with the remaining pastry and filling.

Pour enough oil into a medium, heavy based frying pan to reach 2cm up the side of the pan (note: I actually added much less oil that this and they cooked beautifully, so use your discretion). Heat to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f) or until a cube of bread sizzles and cooks, turning gently brown in about 20 seconds.

Gently add the cigars to the pan, in batches if necessary, cooking for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden and crisp all over (reduce the heat if they start to blacken or burn).

frying

Remove each cigar with a slotted spoon. Drain on some paper towels.

fried

To make the infused honey: gently heat the honey in a small saucepan over low heat until warm and fragrant. Turn off the heat and add in the pinch of saffron, leave for 5-10 minutes to infuse. Splash in a little orange blossom water to taste. Mix well.

Slice each cigar on an angle into two or three pieces to serve. Drizzle with infused honey and scatter with pistachios and rose petals, if desired.

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saffron pear and dark chocolate tart

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It was Federal election day yesterday. For over fourteen hours, Australians around the country were scratching their heads, queuing, eating sausage sizzles and numbering boxes on white and green ballot papers. At 6.00pm Western Australian time, the last polling station closed as the sun dipped below the horizon. Counting began and we, the people, waited.

From a personal point of view, Aaron and I waited at our friend Manuel’s house. For the first time, we held a spur of the moment ‘Election Party’ complete with multiple televisions, a barrel bonfire, high carbohydrate snacks and plenty of soothing beverages.

applecab radishes

We lounged on outdoor couches as the media counted votes and seats, snacking on pistachios whilst commenting on the value of Australian democracy (for which, to clarify, I’m very grateful) and our strange Prime Ministerial candidates.

The most prominent were 1. Clive Palmer, an eclectic, singing oil and gas billionaire with an AU$70 million aeroplane, a replica Titanic and a Jurassic Park-under-construction, 2. Tony Abbott the lycra-clad, foot-in-mouth Liberal, 3. present Prime Minister for the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd the backstabbing ‘psychopath’, 4. Bob Katter and his ‘quality blokes and sheilas’ and 5. Christine Milne the self-professed Greens ‘underdog’. Ah, dear. Quality indeed (if you’re interested in further pre-vote commentary on this present election, take a look at Rob Pop’s excellent post on his blog, Humans are Weird. So good, as is this post-election blooper reel).

tablelectionfirepit

My food contribution was a platter of pulled pork rolls with extra chilli and pork crackling, all of which were inhaled in minutes with cold Coronas and earthy Shiraz. As rain started to fall, we retreated to Manuel’s ‘band room’ to play lego before eventually heading home at 12.30am (just kidding. That Duplo actually belongs to our friend’s child, Lorena. I just wish it was mine).

It’s now 9.00am on Sunday, 8th September 2013. We have a new Prime Minister – the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott – a former Rhodes scholar, boxer and trainee Priest who wears lycra bicycle shorts, has three ‘not bad looking daughters‘, makes unfortunate media gaffes and smuggles budgies to the beach. Our previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has conceded defeat and retreated to the back bench.

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This morning’s media is full of the night-that-was, with rife speculation over the future leadership of the Australian Labor party and various candidates who failed to retain their seats. In the glare of the morning sun, other marginal candidates are up to their usual antics while I sit on my couch crunching through a bowl of almond granola, organic yoghurt and strawberries.

I’m unusually tired, bleary eyed and vague. I’ve also realised that half of this chocolate tart post has been consumed with political sentiment. Okay, let’s revise.

chocolate

It’s been a very long time since I made a ‘proper’ chocolate tart. Brownies, yes. Flourless chocolate cakes, fondants, mousse and pavlova? Yes. But a pastry base, filled with chocolate ganache? I think it’s been about a year… the last significant effort being a luscious salted caramel and 70% cocoa tart that received rave reviews at a Summer dinner party.

This particular tart was made after I discovered a recipe by Matthew Evans in a recent edition of SBS Feast magazine (an occasional magazine-stand indulgence, due to its beautiful multicultural recipes and inspiring photographs). I immediately fell in love with the combination of star anise, saffron, pear and dark chocolate, lovingly wrapped in buttery pastry.

saffronopen

Now, as you well know… I struggle when following recipes. I’m constantly tempted to exercise my ‘creative license’ through adaptations, substitutions and omissions. This time round, I’m proud to say that I almost followed the exact recipe; my two modifications were: 1. the substitution of 70% cocoa dark chocolate for half of the specified milk, and 2. the substitution of 50% more Ron Matusalem Gran Reserva rum instead of the specified brandy.

I loved this tart. Every bite announces the bitterness of dark chocolate on the palate, softened by sweet, saffron-infused pear, notes of star anise, buttery pastry and the warmth of rum. It’s spectacular to present also; black-brown against soft yellow with streaks of fine crimson and powdered sugar.

staranise

Due to its richness, I’d recommend serving this tart in fine slices with a dollop of double cream or crème fraîche. If desired, you can also reduce the saffron-infused poaching water down to a syrup. It looks beautiful when drizzled onto the plate.

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Saffron Pear and Dark Chocolate Tart

This tart takes roughly 4 hours to make. I’d recommend starting the day before if you can.

Adapted from a recipe by Matthew Evans, published in Feast, Issue 23 / August 2013

Pastry:

  • 230g plain flour
  • 2 tbsp raw caster sugar
  • 110g cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup (220g) raw caster sugar
  • generous pinch of genuine saffron
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 pears (Beurre Bosc or Gold Rush preferable), peeled, halved and cored
  • 200ml full-fat thickened cream
  • 10 star anise
  • 200g 70% dark chocolate
  • 150g milk chocolate
  • 3-4 tbsp rum or brandy (to taste)
  • Icing sugar, to serve – optional

To make the pastry: place the flour, butter, sugar and salt into a food processor bowl. Process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Whisk the egg yolk with 60ml iced water. With the food processor motor running, gradually add the egg yolk and water to the flour mix; process until the mixture just comes together.

pastrymix

Shape the pastry into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before rolling.

pastrycase

When adequately chilled, roll the pastry disc out to a 3mm thick circle. Line the base and sides of a greased 24cm pie dish or tasrt pan, then prick all over with a fork. Place the unbaked pastry case in the freezer to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Remove the pastry from the freezer, then line the case with baking paper and pie weights, uncooked rice or beans. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove weights and paper. Bake for a further 5 minutes or until the base of the pastry is dry to touch. Set aside to cool.

poaching

To make the filling: place 1L of water into a large saucepan with the caster sugar, saffron and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves, then add the pears. Bring to a simmer (if the pears start floating, weigh them down with a saucer so that they are fully immersed in the liquid). Cover with a cartouche (see image on right), reduce heat to medium-low and poach pears for 30 minutes or until tender (easily pierced with a knife).

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Allow to cool, then cut each pear half lengthwise into two pieces.

Place the cream and star anise into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, bring the cream to just below boiling point (small bubbles should just be appearing). Remove from the heat and set aside to infuse for 20-30 minutes.

creamstaranise sieve

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Strain the cream through a fine strainer to remove the star anise and any ‘milk skin’. Place back into a medium pot and reheat. Add chocolate all at once, whisking continuously until smooth.

melted

When the mixture is glossy and lump-free, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the brandy or rum. Allow to cool.

To bake: preheat oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees f). Evenly spread the cooled tart shell with the star-anise flavoured ganache, then very gently lay the pears onto the surface in a circular pattern, as below (try and make sure that the pears don’t sink too much).

prebake

Bake the tart for 25 minutes or until the ganache is just set. Cool completely before cutting with a heated knife.

Serve with double cream, dusted with icing sugar if desired.

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lime and burnt sugar meringue tart with coconut pastry

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Over the past few years, Tahitian limes have become a staple item in my shopping basket, mostly for use in salads (such as Mexican Corn Salad), cocktails (it’s great friends with gin), marinades and Mexican food. I absolutely love them… they’re both acidic and sweet, refreshing and adaptable, whilst their distinct floral aroma reminds me of Summer every time.

The only frustrating thing about limes is that their market price seems to vary greatly from week to week in Australia. In recent months, they’ve been up to $1.50 PER LIME at the supermarket… it’s, uh… definitely affected my cocktail consumption. So, you can imagine my delight when I was unexpectedly gifted with an entire bag of limes by a friend at work the other day. I almost danced in delight, holding the crinkling plastic shopping bag with two hands as I squirreled it into my office drawer.

limebox

When I got home, I counted my bounty whilst adding in three supermarket limes from the crisper compartment of my refrigerator. The total? Twenty two beautiful, shining orbs, stalks attached, some gently blushed with hints of ripened gold. They were perfect, like little juicy emeralds sitting on my kitchen table. A growing sense of excitement rose like a butterfly, fluttering in my stomach… what to do with twenty two limes? It was too late to start cooking there and then, so the limes were returned to their shopping bag. I placed them in the crisper compartment next to some friendly heirloom tomatoes, kale and beetroots… then I went to bed. With lime on the brain.

limes

So, let’s cut to today. I’ve been sitting in my kitchen surrounded by a week’s worth of lime-related productivity. There’s lime curd, chilli-lime pickle, lime simple syrup for cocktails, Mexican salsa and some frozen watermelon, tequila, mint and lime pops. I also candied some lime peel in sugar syrup for cake decorating; it’s been sitting in a sugary little pile on my bench top, waiting to adorn a spectacular creation. These little candied treats eventually inspired me to create a lime curd tart, topped with a cloud of Italian meringue and sugared strips of crunchy lime zest.

curdcrust

In homage to the end of Summer, I also decided to experiment with a recipe for coconut oil pastry. After reading several recipes including this one from Baking Bites, I ended up with a pallid, soft mess of a pastry shell that was (unfortunately) only fit for the bin. Take two: my own version of butter shortcrust pastry with coconut sugar and additional coconut oil. This pastry shell worked perfectly; buttery, short and golden with a soft, sweet hint of coconut. Unfortunately, both versions of coconut pastry completely solidified whilst ‘resting’ in the refrigerator, so if you’re going to bake the recipe as written, I’d encourage you to maintain an attitude of patient persistence whilst kneading. It’ll all be worth it in the end (or alternatively, if you want to avoid the solid coconut experience, just increase the butter to 125g and omit the coconut oil altogether). The burnt sugar meringue can also be a touch challenging, so if you’d like to increase the simplicity of this recipe I’d recommend only reducing your sugar syrup to the ‘soft ball’ stage, 6-8 minutes or 115 degrees C (240 degrees f). I’ve also included more tips for making Italian meringue under ‘notes’.

Happy cooking (oh, and now that I’ve scared you regarding the level of difficulty… this tart really isn’t so hard if you break it down into several steps. And once you taste it, I guarantee that the work will be all worthwhile).

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Lime and Burnt Sugar Meringue Tart with Coconut Pastry

Makes 1 x 23cm tart

This tart includes four components: coconut shortcrust pastry case, lime curd cream filling, burnt sugar Italian meringue and candied lime peel. I’ve broken down each element into an individual ‘recipe’ with instructions for assembly to follow.

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1. Coconut shortcrust pastry:

  • 1 1/2 cups (250g) plain flour
  • 100g butter, chilled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil or coconut butter (I use Loving Earth)
  • 1/3 cup (40g) organic coconut sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp chilled water

Place the flour and coconut sugar into a large bowl. Rub in the cubed butter and coconut oil with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the egg yolk and chilled water, then knead until the mixture comes together.

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Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the mixture is smooth. Mold into a flattened ball, cover in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 3o minutes prior to using.

Now for the rolling part: lay a piece of baking parchment over your bench, then sprinkle it lightly with flour. Turn out your dough, and start kneading it again until it reaches a pliable consistency (let me tell you from the start; this is not a fun pastry to work with. The coconut oil makes it go rock hard if you leave it too long in the refrigerator so don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. You’ll just need to knead it consistently until it softens again).

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Once your dough softens, roll it out with a floured rolling pin into a large disc, 0.5cm thick. Drape it over your rolling pin then transfer it across to a 23cm loose-bottomed tart pan. Press your pastry into the edges of the pan and make sure that the surface is covered evenly (don’t worry if your pastry fractures, just pick up the torn pieces and press it all back together inside your tart pan). Prick the surface evenly with the tines of a fork, then place your pastry case into the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees f). Remove your chilled tart case from the refrigerator and line it with foil or baking parchment. Fill the lined case with rice, ceramic pie weights or dried beans. Now it’s time for blind baking: place your weighted tart case into the oven and bake it for about 20 minutes.

After the time has elapsed, remove the case from the oven and take out the weights, foil and/or baking paper. Use a fork to prick and flatten any bubbles that may have formed in the pastry, then return the case to the oven at a reduced temperature of 180 degrees C (350 degrees f).  Bake for another 20 minutes, or until the tart shell is crisp and light golden brown.

Let the case cool completely before adding your filling.

 

curdjarlike

2. Lime curd filling:

  • 1 cup (130g) white caster sugar
  • 60g organic unsalted butter
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup fresh Tahitian lime juice (I used about six medium limes, or to taste)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp lime zest (to taste)
  • 2 whole free-range eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup heavy double cream (or clotted cream, if you can find it)

Place a glass bowl over a pot of gently boiling water to form a double boiler. Add the sugar, butter, lime juice and lime zest into the bowl, then stir the mixture over medium heat until the butter melts.

limeymont

Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before adding your eggs in a gradual, steady stream. Whisk continuously until all of your eggs are combined with the lime mixture, then return the bowl over your pot of hot water and keep stirring until your mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon (about 20 minutes).

When your curd is ready, place it into a clean bowl or jug then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes to cool and thicken prior to whipping it with the heavy cream until smooth and glossy. Refrigerate your lime cream filling for 2 hours prior to filling your pastry case.

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3. Italian burnt sugar meringue:
  • 3 large free-range egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (130g) white caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
Place the egg whites into a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand-mixer. Beat until soft peaks form, then set aside.
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Place the white caster sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup of water into a medium saucepan over low heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve without stirring, then increase the heat to medium, or until the mixture reaches a slow boil. Continue to boil, brushing down the sides of your pan with a wet pastry brush occasionally (to prevent crystallisation) for about 10 minutes or until spots of toffee colour appear. Remove your pan from the heat at this point and swirl the mixture until it darkens to a shade of light toffee.
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Now’s the difficult part. Take your hot pan of burnt sugar syrup, and pour it slowly down the side of the mixing bowl whilst continuing to beat your egg whites (this is much easier if you have a stand mixer). Continue to beat until the meringue is firm, glossy and cooled (about 4-5 minutes).
Refrigerate your mixture until you’re ready to assemble your tart.
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4. Candied lime peel:

Always exercise caution when working with hot sugar syrup

  • 1 lime
  • 1 1/4 cups (160g) white caster sugar
  • extra caster sugar or powdered sugar, to coat
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Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the peel (or ‘rind’) from your lime in 1-cm strips. Use a sharp knife to remove any white pith, then cut the peel into strips (about 2mm wide).
Blanch your lime peel in freshly boiled water for one minute. Drain, then refresh the peel immediately in an ice-water bath. Repeat process, then drain and set aside.
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Heat the sugar with 1 cup of water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to bubble, add in the drained lime peel. Allow to bubble and reduce for 5 minutes, stirring continuously, until the syrup becomes viscous and your peel appears translucent and softened.
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Using a slotted spoon, place the peel onto a wire rack to drain. Separate the strands and toss them in caster sugar or powdered sugar to coat. You can store this candied peel in an airtight container for up to three days.
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To assemble:
Place your tart shell onto a serving platter. Fill it with a smooth, even layer of your lime cream filling. Take your Italian meringue and heap it into the centre of the tart, leaving a 2cm/1 inch border around the edge. Use a knife to sculpt the surface decoratively, then if desired, you can either brown it in the oven for 3-5 minutes at 220 degrees C (430 degrees f) or blowtorch the surface until toasted. Top with candied lime peel to serve.
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Notes:

  • This page from Pastry Chef Online contains a great tutorial on making Italian meringue. It also outlines the importance of safety precautions when working with candied sugar.
  • Despite my complaints, all dough needs to rest in the refrigerator before rolling to allow the gluten in the dough to relax. Despite the difficulties of coconut oil in dough, do not skip this ‘resting’ process or you’ll end up with a tough pie crust.
  • You can save your lime-infused blanching liquid and sugar syrup to make a simple syrup for cocktails. Just add them together into a medium saucepan with the juice of three limes, then reduce the lot down into a syrupy consistency. Store in a sterilised glass jar… delicious with vodka or gin, soda water, muddled blackberries, a wedge of fresh lime and loads of mint.

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Extra facts about Coconut Oil:

If you, like me, are new to using coconut oil in cooking, you might be interested in reading a little more about its stated health benefits here. I wouldn’t suggest that you start guzzling it by the litre (read this contrasting article by Kathleen Zelman, Registered Dietitian), however in moderation it contains many heart-friendly short and medium chain fatty acids, primarily lauric (44%) and myristic (16.8%). It also has a very high smoke point which means it’s an ideal oil for creating crispy, delicious foods with a delicate hint of fragrant coconut. Warning: coconut oil is contraindicated for those with hypertension (high blood pressure). Consult your doctor if you have any further questions about the suitability of coconut oil for your diet.

wholemeal mince pies with spiced whisky fruits

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It’s 2:42am on December 25th, 2012: officially Christmas day. You’re probably wondering why I’m up so early. Well… it’s not because I’m excited about raiding Christmas stockings or unwrapping illusive presents. It’s more to do with the fact that I haven’t yet been to bed, and I need to stay awake to let my volleyball-playing husband through our apartment block’s security gate. Sigh. One of the hazards of letting your husband put his keys into your handbag is that sometimes he (or you) forgets to take them out. In this case, though, it was my fault. I forgot to leave them on our friend’s kitchen counter when leaving a Christmas eve party in a post-jovial state of fatigue.

So, now you know why I’m sleepily writing a recipe for mince pies after 2 o’clock on Christmas morning. In all honesty, it’s rather nice… the air outside is cool, still and permeated by the sound of chirping crickets. Very occasionally, a car drives down the highway, leaving a hum in it’s wake. Yep, I like the night hours. Even though I know I’ll be sleepy the next day.

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Anyway, back to the mince pies. I’m actually eating one as I type, the evidence of which is a buttery crumb that’s embedded itself in my keyboard. I’m eating more for analytical value than out of hunger, and consequentially, each ‘chew’ is quite contemplative. First you get the crisp crunch of buttery pastry, followed by the sweet plumpness of whisky-infused apricots, the chew of raisins and some soft notes of spice and ginger. Delicious, at any time of the day or night.

Growing up, I was exposed to many Christmas traditions, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. It was one of the benefits of being a diasporic child with scattered family and friends; in fact, I probably spent more childhood Christmases in the United Kingdom than in my ‘official’ home of Australia. Understandably, this fragmented upbringing has led to an eclectic range of Christmas associations that are embedded deep within my psyche. These range from the gentle drone of a fan in the deep, dark of night to the experience of waking up by a frozen window, wearing woolen socks and flannelette pyjamas. But despite the differences in climate, cuisine and culture, there is one Christmas treat that I remember eating, no matter where I was.

Can you guess? If you said the ‘fruit mince pie’, you’d be correct. If you didn’t, you’ve obviously not been following the theme in this early morning assembly of words and… I guess I don’t blame you. Or me, as I’m writing this in a sleep-deprived state.

When I was a child, our family’s mince pie of choice was Mr Kipling, the quintessentially English treat that came in a shiny red-and-white box with embossed lettering. I loved them, and often kept the shiny foil cases after I’d polished off every morsel. I still have a soft spot for Mr Kipling whenever I see the festive displays in supermarkets; however, in recent years I’ve been making an effort to increase both the health value and the ethical quality of the food I eat, even during the indulgent Christmas season.

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So, by means of a (final) introduction to the following recipe, I just want to say that the humble mince pie is a wonderful thing. Eaten hot or cold, in a bowl or in your hands, they’re highly adaptable and can easily morph from a snack to dessert à la mode in a matter of minutes. The recipe I’ve included has been influenced by a number of sources, both from the internet and from various baking cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. It’s predominantly wholemeal, suet-free, and as organic as I could make it.

Personally, I feel that the added booze adds a beautiful depth and complexity to the fruit mince, however if you’d prefer to omit it for personal (or parenting) reasons I’d replace it with the same quantity of apple juice, orange juice or water. It’ll be beautiful either way.

So, Merry Christmas everyone. May your day be merry, bright and delicious, even if (like me) it’s going to be dry, hot and brown rather than frosty white.

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Wholemeal Mince Pies with Spiced Whisky Fruits

Shortcrust Pastry:

  • 225g cold organic butter, diced
  • 200g wholemeal plain flour
  • 150g white plain flour
  • 100g raw caster sugar
  • 280g fruit mince (recipe to follow)
  • 1 egg white
  • icing sugar, to dust

For this recipe, you will need a 20 x 5cm hole patty tin or mini-muffin tray. Make sure that each hole is greased well with butter before you start.

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Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Measure both your flours into a medium-sized bowl. Add in your cold butter, then rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the sugar and a pinch of crushed sea salt. Combine into a ball, then knead slightly. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then place into the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill.

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When your pastry is chilled but still workable, turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide it into two halves, then set one half aside (this will later form the tops of your mince pies). With a rolling pin, roll the other half of your pastry into a smooth disc around 0.5cm thick. Using a 6.5cm cutter, cut out approximately 18-20 rounds to form the pastry bases (re-roll any offcuts of pastry to the same thickness as required).

Insert your pastry discs into each hole, pressing well into the edges of the tin. You may find at this stage that your pastry starts to fall apart; this is entirely normal for a ‘short’ dough (as both the fat and the sugar in your mixture inhibit the gluten in the flour from binding together and becoming elastic). All you need to do is ensure that you press all the fragmented parts together thoroughly, so that they’ll adhere adequately when cooked.

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When your pastry cases are complete, prick the bases with a fork to allow air to escape during the cooking process. Apply a little beaten egg white with a pastry brush to seal the surface, then add one heaped teaspoon of fruit mince into each case.

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On a floured surface, roll out your reserved pastry (optional: keep a small baby-fist-sized portion aside for decorative purposes) to 0.5cm thick. Cut out 5cm rounds with a biscuit cutter or the inner lip of jam jar (as I did) then place them on top of your filled mince pies. Press around the edges lightly with your fingers to seal.

When all of your pies are completed, glaze them with a little more egg white. If desired, you can then decorate them with pastry shapes like the ‘leaf’ pattern I developed below. It’s ridiculously simple; just cut some diamond shapes from your leftover pastry, shape them into little ‘leaves’ with your hands and then press the edges lightly with the tines of a fork (see image below). Use a blunt knife to form a ‘vein’ down the middle of each leaf, then place them onto your pastry cases, pressing to aid adhesion.  Brush each leaf with a little egg wash, then dust the whole lot with some raw caster sugar.

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Place your finished mince pies in the oven, checking regularly, for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending upon the reliability of your oven). The pies will be done when the tops are light golden, you can smell the fragrant spices of the hot fruit mince and the pie surface is slightly firm and dry to the touch.

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Leave your pies to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When sufficiently cooled, twist each pie slightly to release it from it’s mold, then lift it out carefully. Arrange on a serving platter and dust with icing sugar to serve.

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Spiced Whisky Fruit Mince

  • 1 small Granny Smith (green) apple; peeled, cored and grated
  • 285g mixed dried fruit (I used chopped dried apricots, raisins and sultanas)
  • 60g glace cherries
  • 1/3 cup bitter marmalade
  • 1/4 tsp mixed spice (I used Herbie’s Fragrant Sweet Spices)
  • a couple of shakes of cinnamon, extra
  • 1 good splash of Stone’s Ginger Wine
  • 2 tbsp whisky
  • 2 tbsp water

Combine all of the above in a medium sized bowl. Mix well, cover, then refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours) for the liquid to absorb.

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The next morning, stir your mixture well. Your fruit should be plump and fragrant, with a little thickened liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Use as per the recipe above; any leftover fruit mince can be kept refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months.

Notes:

  • This recipe uses wholemeal shortcrust pastry, organic butter, organic, suet-free dried fruit filling and a touch of liquor. I’m not going to go as far as to call it ‘healthy’, but it’s definitely healthier than the  shop-bought versions which contain vegetable shortening, refined sugar and lard.
  • ‘Shortcrust’ pastry got it’s name from the fact that the protein strands are actually ‘shorter’ than in normal pastry, because each flour particle is coated in fat (in this case, butter) and sugar. This prohibits the development of elasticity and consequential chewiness.
  • Flowing on from this, shortcrust is actually the most crumbly, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pastry around. The normal ratio for flour to fat for this pastry is 1:1. However, the quantities above will still give you a beautifully tender, buttery result (whilst being a little better for the waistline).
  • Any leftover fruit mince can easily be transformed into fruit pillow biscuits, these fruit mince scrolls or these deliciously fruity truffles. As above, you can also freeze it in an airtight container for a few months.

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