Yeast-less diaries: The sequel
To tell you the truth, I've been a bit low on the breadbaking front recently. My love of food and cooking have never been greater, however, and I don't think I've ever spent more time in the kitchen than I have during the last couple of months. The downtime in breadbaking means that I get the chance to broaden my other culinary horizons, and I thought I should put together some photos of what I've been up to this weekend.
After the heart-attack-but-in-a-good-way of last week's duck confit, I wanted to focus on "lighter" things this week. "Lighter" being savoury puff pastry stuff, huh? Eh, it's all relative though...
First thing I wanted to share is a nice potato blini, photo of mise en place below. Cook, peel and rice about 300 gr. potatoes. To that, add 2 Tbsp bread flour, 2 egg yolks and enough milk to make a thick cream. Add salt+pepper+herbs+spices as you wish. Freshly grated nutmeg works great. Whip 2 egg whites to max volume on medium-high speed, and gently fold into the potato cream. Spoon small cakes into a hot pan and cook both sides in butter.
The potato blinis are very versatile and a great weeknight snack or appetizer; I had them with some sardines, sour cream and caviar.
Also this week, I wanted to put together some savoury dishes using puff pastry. Just as with confited food, I don't find puff to be at all greasy or "heavy". On the contrary, light, delicious tarts or flans can be quickly put together if there's some puff in your fridge. Puff is one of those things that might appear hard to make, but comes together quite effortlessly if you've done it once or twice before. And it's easier to make than croissants. I've made quite a few batches of puff, and I thought I could put up some of my own thoughts and recommendations regarding the process in this post. For the dough:
- Put flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add cold water and melted butter, and mix with a fork until the dough starts to come together. Turn it out on your work surface and knead it a few times until it's a coherent, shaggy mass. It should be just a bit sticky, like pasta dough, but not smooth. Put in the fridge for at least an hour to relax the gluten and chill. Remember that you want the dough and butter block to be at the same temperature/consistency throughout the process.
For the lamination:
- The butter should be "plastic" at all times - it should not be melting between the layers or seeping out of the dough, and it should not be rock hard and fracture into pieces as you roll the dough.
- Don't press down too hard on the rolling pin, that'll distort/destroy the layers. Try to maintain an even pressure on the dough, so that the thickness is the same over the entire length of the dough.
- Flour your work surface, but not excessively. You don't want the dough to stick and rip, but you want just a slight "friction" between the dough and your work surface. That way it's easier to roll it thin enough.
- Roll the dough to approx. 1 cm thickness each time before folding in three. That way you'll get nice, even layers throughout your dough.
- Wrap the dough tight in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 45 - 60 mins. between folds.
- Ideally, do the lamination the day before you actually need the pastry. That way the dough gets to relax and chill sufficiently first.
For the make-up:
- Cut off a sufficiently large piece of your pastry, flour it well but brush off excess flour, and roll to desired thickness, commonly 2 - 3 mm thin. Work quickly when the pastry is this thin, as the butter will quickly heat up and become soft.
- Roll sheeted pastry up on your rolling pin and transfer to a lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 15 mins. Do this before you cut out the shapes you want, otherwise the dough will shrink and distort after you cut it.
- After cutting and shaping, egg wash and return to the fridge for a good 20 - 30 mins before baking. This will reduce shrinking during baking.
If you've never made puff before, I recommend starting out with a small batch, with say 500 gr. dough and 250 gr. butter block. A small batch like this is easy and quick to roll out during lamination, and this is a practical size to start out with in order to gain some experience and "understand the pastry". Below is a photo of my pastry with these measurements during the 5th fold.
My first application was some simple tomato flans, and, to tell you the truth, they don't come much simpler than this. Simply cut out rectangles, egg wash, dock with a fork and put tomato slices on top. Finish with salt, pepper, olive oil and herbs/spices of your choice.
Bake in a hot oven, approx. 200dC for 20 mins or until done, and serve with a green salad and a delicious slice of salt cod (Morue et flan de tomates?):
Puff pastry diamonds are also very versatile and simple to make - below I've filled one with some green leaves and served with salmon carpaccio:
Next on my list of things to try out, was an oxtail and duck liver terrine. I love any old-fashioned oxtail soup, and I'm also a fan of liver as an "exotic" ingredient bringing unexpected flavour and texture to the table. I've previously used it to good effect in salads, with pasta or as the main ingredient, and I find most livers go well with sweet flavours of honey, orange liqueurs and juices, figs and dates. I wanted to serve this terrine with a nice piece of pastry, but get those oxtails tender first! Bring to a boil and keep boiling over low heat for 3 hours or until the meat is easy to pick off the bone.
Save that broth!
From here on in, it's simply a matter of rolling slow-baked duck liver slices around oxtail meat to make a tight log, and chill for at least 2 hours. To serve with the terrine, I baked a sheet of puff pastry with weights on top to make a thin, crispy layer. I then sliced it into slim rectangles crosswise, and slathered each with a carrot-chevre cream (soft chevre puréed with boiled carrots, olive oil and lemon zest) and topped it with small carrots that were poached in orange juice infused with toasted caraway seeds. Absolutely scrumptious: